In today’s modern world, nearly every student has all the information they could ever want right at their fingertips. While beneficial in many ways, this also makes it fairly easy for them to only consume the news that reflects their own opinions and biases, creating insular bubbles in which many students are content to live.
In order to give students more exposure to the way that the “other side” thinks, college campuses should begin to bear more of the responsibility of popping students’ bubbles. This is especially important on a campus like UMBC’s, where one is generally more likely to encounter an outspoken liberal than an outspoken conservative.
Because of society’s current, deeply-entrenched political divides, it is more important than ever before to focus on engaging in constructive dialogue between groups of people on both sides of the political spectrum. A university is a prime place to begin cultivating the skills necessary to have this sort of conversation. This can be difficult to do, however, when a college campus does not facilitate these discussions.
While student organizations like UMBC Progressives have brought various political speakers to campus, those speakers tend to reflect the views that many UMBC students already hold. The speakers have included people from organizations such as Progressive Democrats of America and NARAL Pro-Choice. While there are other political experts on campus at times who share valuable information with the student body, these experts once again tend to reinforce the values already held by UMBC students.
If UMBC is truly committed to teaching its students to think deeply and critically about the issues at hand in today’s society, it is vital that it makes more of an effort to facilitate political dialogue across both sides of the table by bringing more political speakers of varying ideologies and beliefs to have conversations with UMBC’s student body.
When asked if UMBC Progressives would consider bringing a speaker to campus who holds an ideology contrary to that which tends to permeate political discourse at UMBC, founder of the organization and senior American studies and political science major Richard Elliott said, “I don’t think it would end well.”
He expanded to say, “I am of the belief that political opinions are more than policy: it breaks down into culture. The two most common ones are at total opposite ends of the cultural spectrum and, as such, political debates are cultural debates. And cultural debates almost always end without anyone’s opinion changing and with lots of yelling and angry faces.”
What Elliott said is by no means untrue. People’s political beliefs are often a product of the culture in which they were raised, and thus political debates are often filled with passionate people who seem unlikely to change their minds. But if society is to make any sort of equitable progress, it is vital to find ways to move past the anger associated with political debates and instead channel it into constructive dialogue.
The “other side” is not just going to go away; that should be more evident by now. UMBC should be a leader in cultivating minds that can move past divisive rhetoric in order to have the conversations that matter, instead of simply ignoring them in favor of preserving a comfortable, but ultimately detrimental, bubble.