Students Sat Down at Penn To Talk Politics Without Having a 'Screaming Debate'

October 23, 2017


Over one hundred individuals, including Penn students and others from as far as North Carolina, gathered at the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall on Oct. 18 to talk through their political differences.


Penn's newly-established chapter of the Common Party, Cairn University and the Graduate School of Education co-sponsored, “Can We Talk? A Political Dialogue in Trump’s America,” where students gathered in groups of 10 to discuss their personal views on politics. 


The forum opened up by asking participants to describe the political environment they grew up in and the effect they think it had on their political views.


At one table, Penn students sat next to students from Cairn, Drexel University, a fellow at the John Jay Institute and an assistant professor from the University of Virginia. 


College freshman and co-director of Common Party Talia Rosenberg said she thinks “people have always had difficulty speaking to others who don’t come from the same place as they do,” but the format of this discussion allowed participants to have a discussion without focusing on proving a point. 


Participants discussed a number of prompts, including one that asked them to pick one issue in politics over the past year that had either really bothered or really pleased them. 


At one table, nine out of 10 people had different responses, ranging from anger about the politicization of Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat to the president’s response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.


Tashime Felder, a senior at Cairn studying social work and biblical studies, said the event was valuable in light of a lack of civil dialogue in the United States. “In this day and age, we don’t have conversations, we have screaming debates … and all reason goes out the window,” he said.


College sophomore Bobby Bailey agreed. “As a Republican, I’m obviously surrounded by liberals all the time at Penn. [It] was nice to have an in-depth conversation in which everyone was open-minded and intently listening and welcoming of my conservative viewpoint.”


Penn GSE professor Jonathan Zimmerman held two similar events last year — one at Cairn and one at Penn — with the same goal. This year, he teamed up with Common Party to co-sponsor the discussion.


The most recent forum attracted more than just Philadelphia-area students. Rachel Wahl, an assistant professor at UVA, came to Philadelphia to participate and will return for a similar event at Cairn on Nov. 15. 


Joy Shillingsburg, a teacher from Raleigh, N.C. and former student of Zimmerman's, traveled to Philadelphia to participate in the discussion. She has organized similar events for high school students.


“As difficult as it is right now, I think that this is the good part that’s blooming from some dark days. The light has been broken for a long time so we have to reset it, and that’s what this is about,” Shillingsburg said. “Everybody [here] understood the spirit of that.”


Reprinted from "The Daily Pennsylvanian" 10/20/17:

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