With the primary election season in full swing, college campuses have not been immune to the heightened popularity—and polarization—of political discourse. Many Skidmore students began perking up to politics last semester, and have continued to follow the candidates. Although it should be appreciated that students are discussing politics at all, there are ways in which these discussions are unhealthy. The divisions observed among Skidmore students exemplify the ways politics divides most communities of voters; many individuals feel intimidated by political discussion, parties divide and shame one another, and conversations become more or less homogenous as those with contrary opinions often do not participate.
Conservative voices are all but silent at Skidmore. Although it is widely acknowledged that the student body tends to be liberal, there is a generalization of political ideologies. Skidmore students need to make more of an effort to welcome conservative students to voice their opinions and join political discussion by listening better when confronted with opposing ideologies.
Not only is there tension on campus between members of the two parties, but within the liberal community as well. An irritation has developed towards Hillary Clinton supporters, as many students opt to support Bernie Sanders, and these exchanges have been heated to the point of being dubbed “Hillary Shaming.”
Polarization between Republicans and Democrats, as well as within the parties themselves, makes political discussion a dangerous minefield. While politics is always going to be an uncomfortable topic, engaging in controversy can feel especially uncomfortable because of the taboo associated with it and because it’s intellectually intimidating. Unless one has made a distinct effort to become educated in politics, they may not have been exposed to in-depth political discussion. Many people simply do not discuss religion or politics with others out of courtesy, but this decision can stunt the education of young adults who grow up having seldom heard politics being discussed outside of their families, where there is likely little disagreement.
The location of the discussions also negatively influences their quality. The prevalence of social media, namely Facebook, has changed the way we talk about politics. Students become internet warriors, scripting emotional, often furious political posts to express their opinions. Understandably, it is easier to articulate personal beliefs in a status update or comment, but debates about politics are inevitable, and perhaps it makes sense to voice opinions outside of the internet. Engaging in discussions gives supporters of either party the opportunity to genuinely speak about issues at hand whilelearning about the beliefs of those around oneself. But for any political discussion to be meaningful, members of the conversation must listen as well as speak.