Are you an elitist, religion-hating, military-squashing, hippie liberal or a racist, sexist, xenophobic, gun-worshipping, conservative? Were you a snobby, privileged, and corrupt Hillary voter or an uneducated, deplorable, and complicit Trump voter? Likely, you wouldn't want to be identified with these derogatory stereotypes. I don't think most other Americans would either.
Today, we frequently talk about political polarization. We complain about how Democrats and Republicans are more focused on messaging and achieving political wins than fulfilling their duties to govern. We condemn gerrymandering, voter suppression, and money in politics for hijacking our political system. I wholly recognize that these are inexcusable problems, not only tarnishing the reputation of Congress and the presidency, but also undermining the fundamental democratic philosophy of "one person, one vote." However, these are merely symptoms of a systematic problem - an unwillingness to listen to those with whom we disagree.
I firmly believe that one of Duke's greatest strengths is its diversity. Our university provides an unparalleled opportunity for students of any race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and political affiliation from nearly 100 countries to talk, learn, and grow from one another.
But, this is often forgotten in the classroom. Many of my conservative friends find themselves uncomfortable or unable to speak up in class discussions. They have expressed fear of being verbally attacked or simply dismissed and disregarded. Although I would classify myself between a progressive and moderate Democrat, I've felt ostracized on multiple occasions for being the most conservative person in the room. My perspectives have been diminished simply because I am a straight white male. As someone who loves to speak out in classes, I am very concerned that if I sometimes feel reluctant to express my thoughts, many others will choose to stay quiet. Not only does this undermine that student's ability to explore and develop ideas—what I consider the core value of a Duke education—but it deprives every student in the class this same ability.
Outside of academics, I've often seen that people largely refrain from discussing controversial topics with those who are likely to disagree with them. How often do you see students in Greek life, SLG’s, and independents speak together about housing reform? When was the last time you had a conversation about affirmative action at Duke amongst a multi-racial group? Have you ever discovered a political disagreement with a friend and solely tried to hear them out?
I fully understand the importance of standing up for what you believe in. And I know that many issues including abortion, race, gun violence, and immigration can be extremely polarizing, especially in 2018. I also recognize that some views other people hold might offend you, your heritage, and your values. But, how can we ever expect the United States to make progress on these issues if some of our nation's best and brightest rising leaders—us—can't even have a conversation about them?
I'm not saying that we need to come to a consensus or make an agreement. But, we should stop thinking of the people who disagree with us as our enemies. We have to stop making generalizations and stop dismissing the perspectives of well-intentioned individuals. We need to speak with those who differ from us and earnestly listen to them and their viewpoints. We must dare to respectfully disagree, while always remembering that each of us are members of the Blue Devil family—a community built upon and strengthened by our diversity.
Elliott Davis is a Trinity sophomore.