American politics forum encourages constructive dialogue

Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development presented a forum addressing “How Should We Get American Politics Back on Track” in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom to commemorate Constitution Day on Monday Sept. 18.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stacy Robertson began the event with opening remarks, which set the program’s tone and established a general framework for the smaller group discussions. In her address, Robertson highlighted the importance of building communities that welcome dialogue—unimpeded by acrimony and cynicism—on critical issues.

“It’s no surprise to any of you that we live in a very interesting political moment, particularly in this country, but really globally,” Robertson said. “I think this is a moment when it would be really easy to engage in cynicism.”

Understanding American politics demands acknowledgement that each citizen—particularly those in privileged positions—has a responsibility to engage with issues afflicting the system, according to Robertson. This GOLD event emphasized creative problem solving that entertains not only potential solutions to common dissatisfactions, but also delves into the feasible objections to those suggestions. 

“I personally think that this political moment is an opportunity … an opportunity to engage,” Robertson said.

The event’s general framework prioritized providing each small-group member the chance to assume responsibility for their voice and to speak openly, both consciously and deliberately. Robertson instructed participants to practice active listening by avoiding interruption and implored them to engage with ideas—not personal criticism. 

“Bring an open mind and open heart,” Robertson said. “Be open to other people’s ideas and be willing to change your own positions.”

The program structured itself around intimate group discussions, featuring a handful of participants, a moderator and a note taker. Within each group, discussions interrogated three options for correcting constituents’ loss of faith in both their elected officials and the larger American political complex. Deliberations for each topic constituted a 15-minute analysis of the trade-offs and benefits posed by each option. 

GOLD organizers posed three broad options—the topics of group discussion—for correcting course in American politics. Looking to Washington D.C., legislators could demand a clean slate by calling for the elimination of special interest groups and the influence of big money in campaign financing. 

The electorate, alternatively, might increase expectations of personal responsibility for elected officials, on whom constituents could impose more rigorous, ethical standards. Addressing mechanics, another option might entail reexamining the political system’s structure in such a way that promotes inclusivity and prioritizes increasing political efficacy.

Following 45 minutes of discussion, participants reflected on their experience. Diversity aside, respondents lauded the event for providing a civilized, fact-based debate and platform.

“Being in a room with these different beliefs and people coming from different backgrounds, it mends bigger generations of rifts between us,” Geneseo College Republicans vice president junior Brian Herman said. “[The experience] shares the idea that we could peacefully discuss without hatred or violence.”

After completing interactive dialogues, students resoundingly agreed that they gained a new appreciation for the potency that constructive engagement has in mending political grievances. 

“I learned about how the differing morals of other people can affect views, stances and policy preferences,” Geneseo College Democrats secretary junior Rohan Bhuchar said. “I should always look at all the factors like these before determining something.” 

The event concluded with distribution of pocked-sized United States Constitutions. Indeed, remembering such commonality enables Americans to look beyond ideological differences so they can engage in dialogue that constructively addresses issues that evade strict partisan affiliation.u