ANNIKA WALL, TRUMPET MANAGING EDITOR
Politics in the classroom can be a tricky subject to navigate, especially in preparation for the 2020 Presidential Election. One concern Wartburg College students have is the presence of political bias in the classroom.
Divides between Republicans and Democrats have grown larger through the Obama and Trump presidencies, according to the Pew Research Center. In a poll of 100 Wartburg students conducted by the Wartburg Trumpet and distributed via the Juice, 47% identified as Democrats, 26% as Independents, 22% as Republicans and five in the other category. Of those surveyed, 27% stated they feel as though Wartburg’s classroom environment does not allow them to express political views.
“If I commit myself to a party, it’s setting up for a divide and divisiveness between people,” Andrew Walker, a fourth-year and Independent, said. “If you hear one person say they’re a Republican or Democrat, then you’re automatically going to have that divide. I don’t want to put myself on one side because that’s not how I think. That’s not how I feel about things.”
When discussing politics, schools must avoid partisanship, NPR reported in 2015. However, the balancing act can be tricky to navigate, leaving some students feeling unable to share political opinions freely.
“There are some things in politics that deserve a fight, deserve you to put in so much energy and embrace that argument that you are fighting for what’s right,” Wyatt Hintermeister, a third-year and secretary and treasurer of the Wartburg Democrats, said. “There are certain policies that may attack an entire community. Being able to argue that is not something people should be afraid of.”
This phenomenon is what the Atlantic calls outrage culture, where individuals avoid civil discourse and instead insult those who disagree with them. As civil discourse devolves, the public is more likely to avoid political discussion, according to the Atlantic.
“What we’re doing is we’re getting into these groups and we’re firing each other up and we’re talking about things we all agree on and we don’t engage together,” Emily Russell, fourth-year and general member of the Wartburg Republicans, said. “If you talk to different people, you’ll learn something from them.”
“If we want to continue being a republic, we have to know what’s going on. We have to get over the outrage because anger never makes good policy …“— BETH BURROW, W-SR SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER
While difficult, Walker noted that Russell’s idea is possible. The economics and business administration double-major said his political views were vastly different than those of his best friend in high school. Throughout discussion with his friend, Walker learned that situations can be perceived differently due to what each person values.
Wartburg CHATS, hosted by Dr. Dan Kittle, dean of students, is a platform where students can discuss multiple issues, including politics. Discussions at CHATS resulted in implementing specific actions, such as the Diversity and Inclusion student panel at Wartburg, according to Kittle.
“Even though we are a microcosm of the larger society … I really believe that we are called to be a model for engagement and civil discourse,” Kittle said. “Sometimes I feel like when we get ready to have these conversations, there’s an expectation that there’s going to be conflict and, at Wartburg, we need to be able to say, ‘That’s not how we do it here.’ Our expectation is that it’s going to go well.”
As many students on campus prepare to vote for the first time in a presidential election, a lack of civil discourse is noticeably more present on college campuses, according to Beth Burrow, an AP government and history teacher at Waverly-Shell Rock high school, said.
“If we nourish an environment of challenging students rather than just teaching them, I think that’s a better perspective.”— WILL DIX, WARTBURG STUDENT
Burrow also previously taught at Janesville high school and currently serves as an adjunct professor at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.
“College campuses, because you have voters, you’ll see that they’re much more invested in the process,” Burrow said. “If we want to continue being a republic, we have to know what’s going on. We have to get over the outrage because anger never makes good policy and you will marginalize some group no matter what.”
Students who felt uncomfortable discussing politics noted that a flipped classroom, where students lead discussion, would be beneficial.
“If we nourish an environment of challenging students rather than just teaching them, I think that’s a better perspective,” Will Dix, a second-year student and Republican, said. “Obviously, that’s hard, but I think if someone had a better way, it would have already been done.”
Students can attend political events in the area to stay up-to-date regarding politics. On-campus, students can get involved with the Wartburg Democrats or Wartburg Republicans. Contact Esme Alarcon at email@example.com for the Democrats or Timmery Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Republicans.