Pro-this and anti-that. It seems wherever you turn at GW, students are spouting their political thoughts, and conversations in class – and even at parties – often quickly turn to politics. There is nothing wrong with having and expressing political beliefs and these conversations can even help us grow by providing multiple perspectives.
However, the pressure to be constantly political at GW forces students to blindly take a stance on every issue and furthers the partisanship on campus that is already all too prevalent. Even after the University fell off the Princeton Review’s list of colleges with the most politically active students this year, politics is still a top conversation on campus.
Even though I study international affairs and watch politics closely, I recognize that not everyone at GW may feel the same and it is important to not be judgmental toward students who are apathetic to politics. Rather than push political conversations on all students, it is important to encourage healthy conversations about politics because college is a time for students to form their opinions.
In my international affairs classes, it is immensely frustrating to see students who claim to know every detail about every political issue. Professors contribute to this overwhelming focus on politics, too. I have been in several 300-person lectures where students are only half-listening as professors drone on about their personal political beliefs, expecting students to automatically agree with them or have a well-formulated response if they disagree and making many students feel uncomfortable. This does a disservice to students who are not tuned in to politics. Although many professors at GW have a background in politics and these conversations do relate to class material, professors need to keep in mind that not all students have a deep knowledge of political issues and explain the background of political topics instead of assuming all students know what they are talking about.
Students and faculty have a right to be passionate about contested political, social and economic issues. But, with politics as a near constant conversation, it pressures students to take a stance in the moment and further divides people on issues that they are not fully educated about. Nothing one student or professor says in passing will pressure someone to change their opinion so those conversations are not productive.
When students don’t feign interest in politics, professors and students react negatively. I have seen students make faces or whisper under their breath when their peers are unfamiliar with current events. In some of my classes, both in and outside of my major, professors assume students watch CNN or read The Washington Post prior to the beginning of every class, and don’t provide background information about the subject matter.
Even as an international affairs major who watches the news daily, I still feel judged by peers for not knowing minute details about crises occurring around the world. While this may spur some students to stay on top of the news, this can discourage many students from speaking up in fear of public embarrassment and eventually push students away from being involved in the class.
The constant pressure to know everything about every topic means that students will inevitably be lacking information on a political issue. When this occurs, far too often, students feel pressured to pick a side rather than ask for details on the event or just admit they don’t have an informed opinion. Admitting you don’t have an opinion on a social or political topic at GW is often seen as worse than having an uninformed opinion, but that should not be the case.
Last year, the Pew Research Center found that partisanship is at an all-time high and judgement about students who aren’t invested in politics creates division when it could build bridges, understanding when people don’t have an opinion on each individual issue is a better approach to addressing political division. While many people enjoy being up-to-date on current events and political issues, it is important to remember that this is not a requirement for all students.
College is supposed to be the time when students establish their political beliefs. However, if students and faculty judge each other for not having established opinions and not being able to hotly debate controversial issues, it will lead students to fear speaking out and asking questions. Political apathy doesn’t correlate with laziness, and it’s time we acknowledge that.
Colette Bruder, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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