Political Dialogues Aim to Counter Polarization

Written by Ethan Greenberg

In the current political season, civil discourse appears hard to come by. Colorado College Political Science Professor John Gould and the Butler Center Director Dr. Paul Buckley have joined forces to counter that problem.

As the election approaches, Gould and Buckley have organized a series of respectful political dialogues on campus. They hope the dialogues will create “a discussion about politics when everyone is feeling so unsafe to talk about it,” said Gould.

This election has entered unprecedented levels of partisanship that seep into many political conversations. “I have never experienced a campaign like this,” Gould said. The dynamic has put traditional party voters in a precarious situation. The election “has put [students], especially conservative students, in a very difficult bind,” said Gould. “If they embrace this candidate, there is the possibility of being accused of being racist. So how do you have a political dialogue on that, when people are so scared?”

Proposals regarding the facilitation of the dialogues were sought from students, faculty, staff, or some combination thereof. Proposals were allowed to use up to $300 and were encouraged to foster dialogue from a range of political starting points. After receiving proposals, Gould and Buckley will choose three. The sessions will support discussions based on humility, open minds, and a willingness to listen.

One major source of proposals was the class of Sociology Professor Prentiss Dantzler II, who offered the opportunity to earn extra credit to his students if they submitted a proposal. “The reason I gave my students the opportunity,” Dantzler said, “is because it is useful to see if they are able to take what we learn in the classroom and place it in a real context.”

The political dialogues play a role in the larger national debate about safe spaces and respectful dialogue on college campuses. The purpose for the political dialogues stemmed from “our belief that CC needs to be a place where people ask really courageous questions, where we go to the edges of our comfort zones,” said Gould. “That’s not going to happen if you are not feeling safe to do that.”

Some colleges, such as the University of Chicago, made headlines by not endorsing the idea of safe spaces or trigger warnings. “The University of Chicago letter,” said Gould, “has muddied the conversation because it has taken a very legitimate concept of a safe place and turned it into code words for millennials who are coddled… and that couldn’t be further than the truth. What students really want is to be able to have a really good, brave, courageous conversation.” The political dialogues aim to create such conversation.

While these political dialogues will conclude before the election, the theme of civil discourse will continue to be a part of Colorado College.

“If the idea of CC or any educational institution is to really build critical thinkers that can actually promote some type of social change, they need a platform to be able to do that,” said Dantzler. “I would argue that the civil dialogue is one way in which they can engage in those types of ventures.”

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