One of the most rewarding aspects of the college experience is living, taking classes, and making friends with students whose backgrounds are different from yours. In some instances, dramatically different. But these differences bring invaluable learning opportunities. Be open-minded and respectful, even if you’re just having a casual conversation and the other person’s opinions are radically different from yours.
This is especially true when talking politics. Today’s political climate is more sensitive than ever, so the ability to have mature conversations about politics where both sides can be heard is more important than ever.
It’s good to seek out perspectives that are different from your own, particularly when it comes to politics. Here’s why.
Develop your own opinions
Our parents influence our earliest political views. If you’re a registered voter, you may have followed your parents’ lead and registered with the same party. When you go to college and your view of the world widens, you may find you’re not 100% liberal or conservative but somewhere in the middle. Or you might have completely different viewpoints from your parents’ and change your party affiliation altogether. That’s okay; college is about finding yourself and forming your own beliefs, which includes your political views.
Your views and/or party association may change
According to a 2017 study conducted by the Voter Study Group, 13% of voters switched their party affiliation between 2012–2017. These results were surprising, as most individuals’ feelings toward politicians or a certain issue may change frequently, but their party affiliation tends to stay the same.
So why switch parties? It’s often due to a person’s life experiences and priorities at a given time. For instance, college-aged voters are concerned about student loan debt, a strong job market, and global issues like the environment. A middle-aged voter is concerned about having enough income and health care for their post-retirement years, so issues like Medicare, Social Security, and taxes are key. A single mother whose child has a serious medical condition has different concerns than a married couple in their mid-30s looking to buy their first home. A voter will support the party whose primary concerns align with their own.
Related: Your Vote Matters
How to seek out different points of view
The only way to learn more about politics is to educate yourself. Do some research. Follow the news, read widely, take a political science class that sounds interesting and is sure to test your currently held beliefs. After all, you do comparison shopping before you make a major purchase—why not do the same for your political beliefs and base your decisions on what you learn?
One word of caution—social media is not the most reliable source of information when it comes to political education. Question what you read. To quote a Russian proverb often used by former President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”
Have an open mind
Nothing encourages an open, honest discussion like asking questions and being genuinely interested in gathering facts and the opinions of others. Always be respectful, but actively seek out those whose views are different from yours.
Go out of your comfort zone
Attend club meetings you wouldn’t normally attend. Most colleges have on-campus Young Republicans or Young Democrats organizations, but don’t limit yourself to strictly political groups. There are countless non-political clubs that attract students of similar political views. You usually don’t have to be a member to attend a meeting. Stop by, listen to what’s being discussed, and go from there. If you’re asked about becoming a member, simply tell them you’re at the meeting to get information and will consider it.
Politics is a highly sensitive subject—keep this in mind before adding your own commentary. When attending your first meeting of a political or non-political campus organization, listen to what’s being discussed. If you wish to participate, preface your statement by saying you’re asking for clarification or more details on the matter. Don’t challenge their beliefs. It’s not your job to convince them, and likewise, it’s not their job to convince you. Heated debates can turn sour very quickly.
College is the time to broaden your horizons and learn more about the world and people around you. It’s the first time many students discuss or analyze their own long-held political beliefs. Be genuinely curious about your fellow students, faculty members, and colleagues and why they think the way they do.
Above all, be respectful. You should never approach a discussion with the intention of changing anyone’s mind, but a lively debate about such a wide-reaching topic promises to be enlightening.