Jeffrey Clark '20 makes a point during a meeting of Bridge, a new student political discussion group.

Frankly, Isha Parkhi ’21 was there partly for the food, but she was looking also for more than good Indian take-out at her first meeting of a new student group called Bridge. Its ambitious mission is to foster dialogue across political differences. “That’s a great concept, and we need more conversations,” Parkhi says.

The theme of the meeting held earlier this week was an appropriate one leading up to the Thanksgiving recess — talking politics at the dinner table. Bridge founder Christine Walsh ’21 and her executive board members, Danny Harwood ’21 and Maddy Howe ’21, gently led discussions inspired by two questions. The first: When people learn about your political beliefs, what is the most common assumption they hold about you as a person? Is it true or false? Somewhere in the middle? The second: What is the most important issue to you in the 2020 presidential election?

Like anyone who is partisan at all, you’re very quick to reject the other, affirm your own. But taking the time to deconstruct that and see the humanity in everyone is important.

Roughly 20 students gathered for this session. Bridge’s twice-monthly discussions draw students whose politics, Walsh says, range from very left to moderate right. Hers? She leans “very heavily on the left.”

The history major launched Bridge last semester because she loves politics and discussion and wanted to do something about the gap in discourse among people with differing views, in particular, political views.

“I’ve always been interested in hearing different sides, different viewpoints, and I think that it’s really important as college students, who are learning all these wonderful things from a variety of disciplines, to come and talk about or share their personal experiences and academic areas of interest in a space that’s conducive to thought  — diversity of thought,” Walsh explains.

Bridge group
Gabriele Fett '23 keeps the conversation going.

At the recent meeting, once students settled into seats at tables set up in the center of the room and briefly introduced themselves, the conversation, always thoughtful and respectful, centered loosely around the original two questions. Gabriele Fett ’23 told tablemates how people sometimes assume he is a “right-wing guy” (not true) because he listens to a range of journalists. Heeding only journalists on the left or only on the right, says Fett, who considers himself a political centrist who leans a little left, results in a flawed grasp of the facts.

“Coming from Europe — that’s a place that’s becoming more polarized every day — I think it’s important to have a healthy discussion about politics because if both sides of the table can’t come together, then you just have extreme polarization on one side or the other, which is bad for everyone else,” he says.

Maddie Cavallino ’21 spoke of concern about the impact a second term for President Trump would have on the climate crisis. The right seems to argue, Cavallino says, that doing more to address the crisis would put economic growth at risk. Her view: She values the life of the planet and the potential to reverse environmental damage more than growing the GDP by a few extra percentage points. 

Later in that strand of conversation, Jeffrey Clarke ’20 said that he tries to consider both sides of the issue. “So it’s like, yes, the environment needs to be preserved, but then also the economy. So is there a way that we can do an intersection to encourage innovation, right? To build technologies that will bolster the economy, but also not hurt the planet?” he asked.

Through those kinds of conversations, Harwood says he’s learned to throw assumptions out the window. If he takes the time to think and understand, he says, he finds that his assumptions are often wrong, that people’s understanding of things are more thorough, nuanced, and serious that he had assumed.

“Like anyone who is partisan at all, you’re very quick to reject the other, affirm your own. But taking the time to deconstruct that and see the humanity in everyone is important,” Harwood says.

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