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2017 January 24 - 03:28 pm

Students Reach Across Country To Discuss Election

Macomb CC, Berkeley Students Share Election Perspectives

It was hands across America for two groups of students who connected recently to share their perceptions of the often tumultuous 2016 presidential election. Eleven students from Macomb Community College and ten from the University of California, Berkley linked together via videoconference for a lively and eye-opening discussion.

Coordinated and facilitated by political science Professor Brooke Allen from Macomb Community College and Professor Harley Shaiken from UC Berkley Graduate School of Education, the intent was to bring together students from differing backgrounds and social surroundings to share their perspectives on the events that shaped the election.

“Our goal in having the students engage in this dialogue was to open their minds to new and differing perspectives and to realize students from other areas are affected by different factors that may drive different beliefs,” said Allen. “The result was tremendous. I think both groups of students took away a much better understanding of the factors influencing the election from the other’s viewpoint and broke some stereotypes of what students would be like from a certain area.”

Students from both schools were engaged, participatory and comfortable sharing their opinions with others who they saw as compatriots.

“They’re students too, so they’ll understand where we’re coming from,” said one Macomb student.

The topics covered during the dialogue ran the gamut from candidates they supported through the relevance of the Electoral College. Some offered rather pointed comments about specific candidates, but primarily they talked about what they saw as the determining issues of the election.

The environment rose to the surface as a primary issue for the students from Berkley, while the economy was the top issue for the Macomb students. Both groups of students explained why they thought those issues were so important to them.

The Berkley students acknowledged a “political bubble” over Berkley with a strong liberal leaning as influential to their beliefs. (Nearly 86 percent of voters in the San Francisco area supported Hillary Clinton.) The Macomb students cited the high percentage of rural and industrial workers in Michigan who are worried about their next paycheck as the driver bringing the economy to the forefront for Macomb voters. (About 54 percent of voters in Macomb County supported Donald Trump.)

But what was more evident than the differences were the commonalities. When discussing individual reactions to the election process, students from both groups expressed disgust at the hostility generated. “It brought out the worst in people. I lost friends over it,” said one Macomb student. A Berkley student added, “We’re labeling one another but not listening to what the others have to say. I lost contact with family members because of this.”

The students agreed the election had brought out a lot of anger in people, making post-election understanding and open-mindedness important. They also pointed out that a presidential election is not the only way to get involved and make a difference, pointing to participation in state and local elections as well as volunteering at local nonprofits.

All participants were impressed by the interaction and stayed long past the end to discuss the experience with their professors. Many students were surprised that while there were some distinct differences in beliefs, it was what they had in common that dominated the conversation.

“I thought the event was superb as did all the 10 UC Berkley students who participated,” said Shaiken. “They all were as engaged and excited by the conversation as I was. There were moments of true eloquence and insightful observation from everyone. Our students left feeling informed and very positive about the interactions.”

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