Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Remarks from our Election 2016 Teach-In

So many of us have had a hard time making sense of the 2016 Election outcome and that is particularly true across America's college campuses. Last night, we held a Teach-In on the Loyola University Maryland campus. Selected administrators and faculty were invited to share their reflections on the election and engage in a dialogue with students, other faculty, administrators and staff about how we move forward as a community.

It's been a while since I've blogged, but I thought I would share my remarks here in case they can be helpful to other students and colleagues who weren't at the forum but are still processing the election outcome.

So here goes:

My biggest challenge with this election outcome was how to explain it at home. As many of you know, I have an almost five year old daughter and a 2 1/2 year old son. My daughter, Nora, became very interested in the election and very supportive of another“girl” being in the White House. She is firm in her belief that Michelle not Barack Obama is our current president because she saw her on Doc McStuffins on Disney Junior.

Despite having a political communications professor as a Mom, Nora’s interest in the girl winning the election didn’t start at home, but at preschool where her good buddy Leo told her all the things that he and his two moms liked about Hillary Clinton and didn’t like about Donald Trump. For them and so many other LGBT families, families of color, Jewish families like my own, the results of the election are very real and in many respects, pretty scary.

When we told Nora that the girl didn’t win, like many adults, she expressed disbelief. Her later suggestion was why can’t both the boy and the girl be president. Why can’t they just do it together? Then everyone would be happy

Out of the mouths of babes, right …

The thing is we know that in this country, there is no both. Or at least it seems like there hasn’t been for quite some time. What we’ve witnessed this election cycle has been about one side vs. the other – it’s been more partisan and divided than any election I can remember. And the environment after the results were announced was no exception. I am personally so sorry that this is the first election cycle you get to experience as voters.

As a communications professor, I can’t help but reflect about what we are seeing on social media. Increasingly our Facebook feeds, Twitter, snapchat, you name it, are echo chambers that reflect our points of view. Very rarely do we engage with or listen to the other side. Very rarely do we connect with those who disagree.

And when we do see rhetoric that disagrees with our point-of-view, it is often displayed in hostile terms, using language that makes us uncomfortable and want to retreat further into our echo chambers.

One of my main take-aways from this election is that we need to start listening – to diverse points of view, to those who agree and disagree with us, and that we need to model our social media behavior to reflect that diversity. The world is listening to us and watching us right now. We need to share sentiments that express the best of our human and political nature, not the worst.

Last week in class I asked students to reach out to someone they don’t know on campus – whether it’s a student you pass on the quad, a professor you’ve never met but you’re interested in their work, the person who makes your sandwich just right in Boulder, or even … that girl or guy you pass in the hall and think is cute. I’m okay with ulterior motives. I asked them to tweet about the interaction and maybe share a selfie using the hashtag #oneperson. Only a handful of students were fully comfortable with this assignment and I get that. I do. But it’s only if we push our selves to be a little uncomfortable, to meet and to listen to people, that we will move forward with a more civil and connected community.

Here’s a note I got from one student:

I never got the chance to say this in person but I wanted to thank you for giving us the opportunity to engage in this twitter activity, that is small, but goes a long way for both ourselves and the community we live in. I am feeling so many emotions right now with the response to the election and participating in this activity really made a difference for me! So once again, thank you.

My challenge to you – make a connection you wouldn’t otherwise. Listen to someone new. While I’d prefer you do that in person, social media works too.

Our family’s take-away from the election? We are going to work harder to connect with families that have different backgrounds and beliefs than our own. My husband and I have committed to finding a monthly service project that we can do together as a family – one that is age appropriate for Nora and Seth. And we are going to show our kids by own our behavior – in our actions, our communication, our giving that we are open to listening and engaging with diverse points of view as we simultaneously stand up for justice.