With politics being a primary topic of conversation following the recent election, political organizations on campus are attempting to stay mindful of how discussions are conducted.
The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), which works to engage students in the political process, published a list of post-election dialogue guidelines the Binghamton University community can turn to when discussing the election. The list can be found at the CCE’s website [https://www.binghamton.edu/cce/vote/general-guidelines-facilitating-difficult-dialogue.html].
“The [CCE] recognizes that politics in general, and the presidential election in particular, can spark deep feelings and emotions, and that it is important for students, faculty and staff to have space to process in a safe and supportive way,” the CCE wrote in its guidelines.
The guidelines, which were published prior to Nov. 3, begin with conversation ground rules groups can establish before engaging in political discussion. These include ideas such as “listen for understanding, not to ‘win’” and “what is said in the room stays in the room.” This is followed by a “discussion formats” section, which contains suggestions on how to frame conversations based on the context they occur in. For example, if taking place in a classroom setting, the CCE writes that students should “consider how the topic relates to your course content or the discipline more broadly.”
Last is a list of sample questions students can use to facilitate productive conversation rather than devolving into a heated argument.
According to Alison Twang, associate director for the CCE, the guide was developed to support the campus community in having post-election conversations.
“We recognized that a presidential election can bring up many emotions and that conversations were likely to take place in various spaces, including classes, student organizations, residential communities and campus offices,” Twang wrote in an email. “This guide provided general advice on setting conversation ground rules, discussion formats and ideas for question prompts that encourage students to reflect on their experience as a voter, engage in perspective-taking with those with different views and experiences and think about how to continue their civic participation beyond the presidential election.”
This is the first post-election discussion guide the CCE has developed, as the CCE’s main focus is normally on helping students register to vote.
“In the past, most of our efforts have focused on supporting students in the voting process, and we recognized that there was a gap in post-election programming and support,” Twang wrote.
But this year, due to the unique circumstance of holding an election during a pandemic, Twang recognized the worry students might have experienced due to delayed vote counts.
“We also expected that it would take longer to know election results this year due to increased mail-in voting and that this delay could lead to increased anxiety and uncertainty about the voting process,” Twang wrote.
Jacques Rodenbach, president of BU College Democrats and a senior majoring in accounting, expressed support for the guidelines published by the CCE.
“Even prior to the election, we as an organization have always promoted the general sentiments proposed in the CCE’s list,” Rodenbach wrote in an email. “I really appreciate the CCE releasing these guidelines for discussion, because the format under which these discussions take place can make all the difference.”
As the president of an on-campus political organization, Rodenbach is aware of the potential conflicts that can be brought out by political conversations.
“I also feel that, unfortunately, the dialogue of our politics at large has become more combative, and a larger emphasis has been placed on ‘winning’ rather than having intellectual conversations of ideals,” Rodenbach wrote. “At [BU] College Democrats, we really try to combat this emerging attitude and instead try to give everyone an opportunity to express their opinion in a space where they feel they won’t be attacked simply for expressing their opinion.”
The BU College Republicans declined to comment.
For other students on campus, like Stephanie Carollo, a junior majoring in social work, more political conversation is not only beneficial but necessary.
“The election has been moderately discussed [in my classes], which is quite disappointing since I am a social work student, and the election directly affects the vulnerable populations we serve,” Carollo said. “I would also think that with as much anxiety that surrounded the election, that it would help to discuss it instead of it being the elephant in the room.”
The CCE’s guidelines aim to help students do just that, with the CCE planning to publish similar lists for future elections, according to Twang.
“Moving forward, we expect to share similar guidelines more regularly during and after the election season,” Twang wrote. “It is more important than ever that these conversations take place in a variety of spaces. Our hope is that this guide makes people feel more confident facilitating these important discussions and that these conversations take place in a way that allows students to process events, reflect on why others may have different reactions and to think about ways to stay civically engaged.”