MACALESTER MAY HAVE A REPUTATION as an unabashedly liberal college, but its students’ minds are not closed. In late February, more than 100 students from the political left, right, and center gathered to discuss the importance of civil political discourse in an era of misinformed pundits and ranting talk-show hosts.
The event, “Liberals, Conservatives, and Everything in Between: Bridging the Political Divide at Macalester,” was designed to bring together diverse groups of students and to encourage difficult but important political conversations. Hosted by Mac Dems, Mac GOP, and student body president Owen Truesdell ’11, students representing a cross-section of the political community at Macalester attended.
This speech/discussion was also the kickoff event of a larger initiative called “Build a Better Mac,” which is likewise designed to bridge the divide between political differences (as well as to bring together domestic and international students, athletes and non-athletes, and various academic divisions of the college).
Conservative political writer and journalist Reihan Salam (above) kicked off the evening by encouraging students to be more empathetic to people who don’t share their political views. “We’re at an anxious moment in our country. Everyone feels like they’re on the chopping block, just a few steps from a dark economic future,” he says. “[That fear] colors all of our political conversations, and makes us a lot less generous of spirit.” If you’re willing to engage with those who don’t share your perspective, you stand to gain, he said.
At the talk’s conclusion, students formed small groups to discuss political questions ranging from health care reform to gun control. With an emphasis on discussing rather than being dismissive, students were forced to confront views they may not have encountered within their friendship circles.
For Truesdell, the event’s success depended not on changing minds, but on having students reevaluate their entrenched political positions. “I hope students reconsider their political assumptions, and what makes them believe what they do,” he says.
Adam Freedman ’12, who’d previously been disappointed by the lack of political diversity on campus, was impressed by the attendance and students’ serious engagement with the topic. “I left inspired to support political discourse on campus,” he says. “I hope this presentation is followed by many more events that encourage conversation and debate.” Truesdell especially hopes that liberal students came away with a practical skill that the college’s Republican students were forced to learn early on: “Being able to work with people you disagree with, and come to a compromise, is something we all need to be able to do,” he says.