Drew’s Dialogue Dilemma

By Jared Sutton

On December 4, 2015, about two weeks after I assumed the office of Student Government President, Alexa Young (’18) changed my life. On that cold December day, The Drew Acorn published Alexa’s op-ed, a scathing critique of privilege in America. During that time, race relations on university campuses, including ours, were strained. Following months of planning, in response to Alexa’s concerns and the concerns of our campus, all four Student Governments and a plurality of Drew’s student groups, administration, faculty and staff joined together and discussed the ways in which Drew should improve when it comes to diversity. 300 members of our community of all colors, creeds and persuasions engaged in a dialogue without shouting and storming out of the room. In response, a report was prepared and disseminated to the student body. Though no one (including me) liked everything in the report, and while Drew certainly is not perfect, the impact of that community unity reverberated for months afterward, and positive changes continue to result.

For those of you patting yourselves on the back about your open-minded nature, let me ask you this: when was the last time you had a conversation with someone you politically disagree with that did not end in an eye roll, a shouting match or a rush to change the subject? Because, unfortunately, I am willing to bet it has been a while. It is no secret that university students––particularly at a place like Drew––are politically liberal. As a result, a political echo chamber dominates everyday life. This echo chamber reverberates across the Forest: in the classroom, in the EC and, dare I say it, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where calls for bipartisanship get a “like,” and provide a politically-correct way to end the conversation without getting real.

As a politically conservative student, I am troubled by the student body’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the one-sidedness of our political dialogue. I find myself observing what feels like hundreds of Facebook posts masquerading in their attempts to start a discourse, yet are really just efforts to seek approval from their “tribe.” Even this article will likely produce whispering over Commons meals and Peet’s coffees that Jared Sutton has finally lost it. The liberal arts curriculum, which challenges us to think differently about the world around us, demands better.

That is not to say that outstanding work is not being done, in pockets. Provost Liebowitz graciously met with a group of conservative students to hear their grievances. Drew Democrats and College Republicans hold forums and debates in an effort to spark dialogue. Yet, for all those efforts, little has changed because there has not been a significant, meaningful, interdisciplinary, cross-campus dialogue.

During his talk on Wednesday, Vice President Biden––who was invited to Drew by former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, Sr., a previous Drew President and a Republican to boot––charged those of us who attended to engage in meaningful, in-person, bipartisan dialogue. He, rightfully, received a standing ovation in response. But, will the students in the predominantly Democratic audience let another opportunity fall to the wayside to open legitimate and meaningful discourse with their counterparts on campus, and will their counterparts be willing to meet them halfway? Knowing the people who attended, and those who did not, I can confidently say that each and every one of the students on campus have the skills and kindness to accomplish this goal. All it will take is stepping out of their comfort zone.

And so, by pulling shamelessly from Alexa’s playbook, I too want (perhaps a bit more directly) to issue a charge to our campus student leaders. The “old guard” of students who were here during the Diversity Forum will be graduating soon (including you, Class of 2019!). Every day, we stray further from the conversations which happened in that space and on that day. Drew is due for a meaningful, open and honest political dialogue––it’s time for a new generation of student leadership to open the doors of their respective echo chambers and step into the light.

Jared is a senior International Relations major and former Student Government president.

Graphic by Caroline Polich.

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