Jessica Avery ‘15 and Evelyn Masterson ‘16
Originally Posted by Mount Holyoke News April ’15, shared with Permission
Controversy has stained the dialogue here at Mount Holyoke College. Unwillingness to constructively engage with viewpoints that do not match one’s own is a major problem here that has silenced many. For many students, college is about finding an identity and connecting with those around you. At Mount Holyoke College, there is definitely a certain tone which many students adhere to. At what point, though, does this lead to the marginalization of others?
The Mount Holyoke College Democrats (MHCDs) and Mount Holyoke College Republicans (MHCRs) addressed this problem one evening in Blanchard. The two student organizations came together to connect with one another and brainstorm ways to community. Their first joint effort was a wreath donation to a local Veterans of Foreign War chapter for a Veteran’s cemetery for the holidays. And that was just the beginning. We are currently planning to co-host a bipartisan party this April.
We, Jessica Avery and Evelyn Masterson, Presidents of the MHCDs and MHCRs, respectively, continued the conversation over the second semester as tensions continued rising. We both believe that Mount Holyoke students should take care of each other. We don’t see politics as some never-ending quest for power. Politics is not an “us vs. them” game. Ultimately, the two sides will always have trouble compromising if they are continuously arguing and seeking to silence each other.
We are confident that bipartisanship exists both in the United States as well as on campus. We envision a campus that acknowledges that differences exist and that difference, especially in political beliefs, is okay. Having a uniform tone and ideological belief system is not how we grow as people, students, or citizens. As a Gender Studies Major and President of the Mount Holyoke Democrats, I (Jessica Avery) believe that there are certain opinions that are physically and emotionally harmful to others. People who hold these opinions need to be held accountable for their words and actions. They need to understand how years of institutional beliefs and political barriers make certain opinions problematic. I want to see campus full of people who step outside themselves and examine their opposers’ position in a critical and thoughtful way. That is why I began the process of collaborating with the Mount Holyoke College Republicans. Ignoring our differences does not solve problems.
As a Republican, I (Evelyn Masterson) took a long time getting used to this campus. I think this was because it was difficult for me to speak my mind without wondering if somebody would immediately try to silence me. I would have transferred out of here in a heartbeat as a first-year if it weren’t for my supportive friends who helped me to see that no good can come from giving up on creating space for bipartisanship in an educational institution. Now that I have been at Mount Holyoke a while, I am confident that our students can be tolerant of other opinions when they have the right guidance. Through our composition of this article, Jessica and I hope that we may play some role in promoting bipartisanship in the Mount Holyoke community.
We believe that the events we have planned will provide a free and open space, which will empower students to speak their minds in a non-academic environment. We hope to see more of these events in the future. Until then, here is our “How To” guide on how to create safe conversation spaces on campus:
Listen to the other person’s entire idea before critiquing or asking questions. (We need to ensure that MHC continues to be a place that supports and empowers women, not contributing to their silence.) Like people, political parties cannot be put in boxes, so do not make any generalizations. Personal attacks are never okay. Remain focused on the ideological conversation itself and not on the characteristics of the people who are speaking. (If Democratic political consultant James Carville and Republican political consultant Mary Matalin can do it every day in a marriage, then so can you!) Come with an open mind and the desire to learn. Be sensitive to your audience and do not make them feel as if they are being personally attacked.
As the leaders of the two partisan groups on campus, we feel that it is important to acknowledge differences and the reality that college is about learning. Learning cannot occur without talking about and exploring deeply different concepts, therefore we hope that these five guidelines will be useful to you in the future. Also remember that it is always important to keep a safe place on campus whether you agree with somebody or not. Silencing others is never productive.
As John McCain, a U.S. senator known for his efforts to promote bipartisanship, once said, “Our political differences, no matter how sharply they are debated, are really quite narrow in comparison to the remarkably durable national consensus on our founding convictions.”