Last night’s local news presented a very nice piece about a bipartisan debate watching party that took place on campus. (Click on the link to see video, including some impressive student quotes.) Members of both the Republican and Democratic clubs gathered in Reid Pit to watch the vice-presidential debates and talk about the issues — especially issues as they relate to women and to foreign policy.
Professor Steve Bragaw notes that “democracy is not a spectator sport,” adding that politics is not and should not be something that can’t be discussed in public. (He also points out that his students didn’t require the incentive of extra credit to join in the evening’s discussion!)
Colleges and universities take seriously the role of education in equipping students to become engaged citizens. As educators, we believe that voters who bring skills of critical thinking, analysis, and research to the issues will make better choices. And at Sweet Briar, as educators of women, we remember that the enfranchisement of women was hard-won and is not to be taken for granted. Our goal is therefore to promote active and thoughtful engagement in political discourse and the expression of a wide range of ideas and positions — which also means that we take seriously the importance of creating an environment in which disagreement between students can take place vigorously, wholeheartedly, and civilly.
This is a challenge — it can appear easier to either submerge potential conflict or sever relationship with those with whom we disagree. And as is frequently observed, today’s media offers many examples of under-reasoned, over-inflammatory, and far-from-enlightening discourse. Personally, I will admit to being disheartened when political rhetoric sounds more like cheering for one’s team to win than like seeking the best ideas for the common good.
But last night, forty students came together to watch — and to listen and to talk. This election is about their shared future; what should be more natural than that they would want to reason it through together? And what could be more heartening?