Dr Kent Ingle: Talking About Politics At University – 5 Tips To Help Your Student Share Their Opinions, Learn From Others

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America feels more polarized than ever. Research shows that most Americans feel the division. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 77% of Americans polled said our country is more divided than in the past.

Political tension also reverberates in schools. In the classroom, we find that students are less likely to engage in political dialogue for fear of the perceptions of their peers or faculty.

A report from Intelligent.com found that 52% of students said they always or often keep their political views to themselves. The main reasons they did so were fear of reprisals from other students and faculty in terms of respect, grades, and even safety.


Discussions are essential to a student’s growth and learning experience. The classroom should be the place where theories are questioned and challenged in a respectful manner.

In this August 13, 2019 file photo, students walk near the Widener Library in Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo / Charles Krupa, File)

For parents of college students, here are some tips you can give them on sharing their political views in class or with their friends.


It’s not about proving someone wrong. Let’s face it, we all have our own opinions and sharing them probably won’t change the views of others. However, these discussions are essential for learning more about others and hearing different points of view.

Set some ground rules (hopefully the teacher does in advance) that everything will be approached with respect and that it will be a safe space for people to share openly without consequences.

More Opinion

At Southeastern University, we launched the American Center for Political Leadership, a bipartisan center, to stimulate political engagement. The center aims to bring in politicians from different parties to expose our students to different perspectives. We recognize the value of expanding their worldview and exposing them to divergent opinions in a safe place.

Put your feelings aside. In any discussion, you can’t let your feelings get the best of you. Someone will say something that will upset you. Try to lead the conversation based on research and reasoning, rather than anger or frustration. It’s good to get personal and share your story, however, don’t let your feelings negatively affect the conversation.

The value of a democracy lies in the bringing together and collaboration of people of different origins, cultures and opinions.

The bottom line is that students must learn to engage in civil discourse to help bridge the political divide.

These types of conversations are essential in the classroom, as it should be a safe space for students to learn to deal with dissenting opinions. It can teach them how to navigate these discussions after they graduate and are in the workplace or at community events. Encourage them to attend debates on campus to learn from others about how to approach difficult conversations.

FILE - The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.  (Wikimedia)

FILE – The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. (Wikimedia)

Be respectful. When someone is speaking, even if you can feel your blood boiling, do not interrupt them. Listen carefully and answer with questions to better understand their point of view. Carefully frame your questions. Instead of being picky about everything they say, ask them how their experiences have shaped their views. Ultimately, act towards that person in a way that you would like to be treated.

In a number of our courses at Southeastern University (where I am chair), our students debate controversial topics. Often times, they are asked to debate a topic from a certain point of view – it is not always one with which they agree. This is essential to help them understand why someone might come to a certain conclusion. By seeking and exploring a different perspective, they can learn to respect their peers better.

Know that it will be uncomfortable. When someone says something that makes you angry or uncomfortable – which will happen – stick to the conversation. Do not take what is said as a personal attack. The more experiences your student engages in, the more comfortable conversations like this will become. Being uncomfortable is essential for growth.

Your student may not recognize it right now, but they are learning skills that will help them in school and in life.

To help depolarize America, Braver Angels is a grassroots organization that unites Red and Blue Americans through workshops, debates, and other events. Data collected as part of the Braver Angels program found that over 70% of community debate participants say the experience has led them to “better understand other points of view.” .

Don’t let the discussion negatively influence your opinion of someone. Discussions are meant to be learning opportunities. However, you can’t let someone else’s opinion change your perspective on them. Basically we have to be individuals who can disagree while taking care of each other.

One of the main findings of the Intelligent.com survey was that people feared losing the respect of teachers and classmates. At the American Center for Political Leadership, we believe that a solution to this growing problem inspires the next generation to think outside the box and thoughtfully engage in government, which begins in the classroom.


The bottom line is that students must learn to engage in civil discourse to help bridge the political divide. While you can encourage your children to participate in political dialogue in the classroom, be sure to demonstrate the best ways to do so at home as well.

The future of our democracy depends on their contributions and their ability to navigate these types of conversations.


About Geraldine Higgins

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