Political Divide

At the end of every editorial, we end with the words, “This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLII.” But it’s hard, in the middle of another preoccupying week, alongside the work of turning out The Phillipian itself, to find a topic angle that everyone in the newsroom holds an opinion on, let alone agrees with.
Objectively, it’d be easier to do this every week if we all agreed all the time. But for some reason– maybe the increasingly polarized nature of national politics, maybe our own growing awareness of political identity– a lot of our disagreements happen in political conversation, at what often feels like a personal level. But even though those disagreements can be hard, and for some, emotionally taxing, they can be in some ways beneficial, and the diversity of experience and opinion with the newsroom objectively makes our work more thorough and representative of the student community at large.

There’s no denying that Andover is a liberal institution. One only has to look at the State of the Academy (SOTA) to realize a couple things– firstly, we lean left, and secondly, those students who do lean right disproportionately feel censored in their academic experiences here.

Last year, SOTA reported that 44.2% of the student body considers themselves liberal, while 90% of conservative students felt the need to censor themselves due to their political leaning.

And because of that self-censorship, as well as the overwhelmingly liberal makeup of our faculty–in a survey The Phillipian sent out prior to the 2016 Presidential election, 94% of faculty respondents supported Hillary Clinton–many left-leaning individuals on campus may not have the opportunity to engage substantively with politically different viewpoints, and conservative students might also seek out solidarity in ‘bubble’ communities of their own.

In other words, it is genuinely hard to feel informed and empathetic towards the political ‘other’ here, which impacts everything from our educational experience to our social relationships. You might recall a time when you squabbled with elementary school peers about political candidates or policies that you didn’t really understand. Whether it was a presidential candidate or a stance on a local bill, many of us defected to the political beliefs of our parents or other role models.

Though we are now old enough to think for ourselves on political issues, the fact still stands that our political leanings are influenced by our surroundings. Some people in the newsroom feel more informed and liberal because of their education here. Others feel as though they’re losing the opportunity to think for themselves, and advocate for an Andover in which political exploration is more encouraged.

But how do we accomplish that? Commonly discussed means of ‘increasing political diversity’ include diversifying EBI curriculum, ASM speakers, and faculty, but the issue is that being vocal about political beliefs may dissuade other students from speaking openly.

Other ideas concern political ‘politeness’ in general, or working to see politics as something impersonal and therefore not worth villainizing other students over. And though we certainly aren’t all in agreement about the feasibility or consequence of these ideas (‘What does it say about your privilege to be able to separate yourself from a political topic?,’ ask some Editors), there is common ground to be found in our discussion of this issue– that there is real ‘political’ hostility on campus, hostility that does extend into the personal.

Distance can often breed hostility and misunderstanding, and this isn’t just about politics– this is about our relationships to each other. If you care about bridging the political gap between parties, in any capacity or direction, it’s up to you to demonstrate interest in learning about something that might make you uncomfortable. (This has limits, obviously– no one should feel responsible to engage with hate speech.) But we worry that, at Andover, there aren’t enough opportunities to demonstrate that interest– enough spaces to reach across a widening gap to a population that might think less of you, and take time to engage with ideas different from your own.
This editorial, upon reflection, is not calling for any actions in particular, because we’re striving to make our last sentence as true as it can be. But we all feel it– underlying political hostility– so at least in writing this, we’re starting a much needed conversation.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLII.