From left: Mike Horgan, ’16, Amalia Cote, ’17, Soraya Todd, ’17, Summer Sullivan, ’17, and Maggie Norsworthy, ’17, facilitate discussion for the “Party Responsibly” dialogue as part of their Global Citizenship capstone project Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Maginnes. The discussion covered political topics like the extreme polarization of views on many of today’s issues. (Malcolm Scobell/B&W Staff)

Global Citizenship Program capstone project encourages political dialogue

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A group of students and Bethlehem community members met last Tuesday night in Maginnes Hall for a discussion on political dialogue.

The event, which was hosted by Summer Sullivan, ’17, Soraya Todd, ’17, Maggie Norsworthy, ’17, Mike Horgan, ’16, and Amalia Cote, ’17, is part of their Global Citizenship Program capstone project, a year-long program that allows students to form groups and “articulate a personal definition of global citizenship,” according to Lehigh’s website.

The group first discussed President Barack Obama’s quote, “If you vote for a third-party candidate who’s got no chance to win, that’s a vote for Trump.”

Cote said the quote revealed Obama’s support for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She also said the impact of one’s vote can be influenced by location.

“(It) depends on the state,” Cote said. “Swing states have a larger impact in the election.”

With Election Day only a week away, the significance of students’ political participation in this election was a major draw for the capstone project.

The five students are a mix of Democrats and Republicans with varying opinions on social issues, government policies and the presidential candidates. Despite having different views on certain topics, the capstone students want others on campus to become more open about their political opinions and the election.

Todd said some students have “an attitude of apathy,” and do not care about who they’ll vote for Nov. 8. She said the lack of response has made it easier for students to withhold their political views from the public.

While this mindset of indifference is visible for the election, it is not the first time college voters think their votes do not have an impact. Voters between the ages of 18 and 24 have voted at lower rates than all other age groups in every presidential election since 1962, according to a poll by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Horgan, a graduate student working on his master’s degree in accounting, said students are “guarding their political views closely to avoid being seen as ignorant” for voting for one candidate or another.

Todd said the Lehigh community is closed in and afraid to express its views. To take on the challenge of changing the political climate on campus, the group created the Party Responsibly discussion to encourage students and the Bethlehem community to present their views without ridicule.

“We want to provide an environment to respect (other) points of view, not to win a debate,” Norsworthy said.

The capstone students introduced the crowd to a psychology video on why people demonize presidential candidates. The professor in the video connected the belief of good and evil with the presidential race.

“Democracy is a way of living together and doing something when you don’t agree,” the professor said.

The five capstone students focused on choosing quotes to help stir discussion within the group and provide the opportunity for individuals to freely discuss controversial issues.

The capstone students posted various quotes on the walls of the room. Students and community members responded to the quotes with green, red and yellow tape to express if the agreed, disagreed or remained neutral on the topic, respectively.

One quote by George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel, “1984,” spurred significant discussion.

“That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy,” Orwell wrote. “It is our job to see that it stays there.”

Some individuals agreed with the quote, because they said it is based on the freedom and protection of the Second Amendment. Other individuals disagreed and said the interpretation of the amendment is too literal and causes people to cross the line on what is acceptable.

James Peterson, the director of Africana studies and an associate professor of English, facilitated the event.

Peterson said individuals’ responses are based “on their perceptions to political quotes.” These perceptions could be influenced by where they grew up, their family and their background.

The capstone students thought the discussion was a success. This was the first event in what will become a series of panels encouraging political activism among the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities.

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