Not every debate between conservatives and liberals has to devolve into a screaming match, which is what “Across the Aisle” aims to prove. Senior Riley Barrett and Robert Fredette ‘18 hosted the second meeting of their discussion series, “Across the Aisle,” on Monday, Feb. 27 following a successful meeting on Feb. 13 in the McGrath Commons, where both conservative and liberal-leaning students discussed differing political ideologies civilly and respectfully.
Barrett first came up with the idea after discussing politics after class with Fredette, where both students listened to the other’s views and thoughts on legislative policies and issues in America. It was then that she had the idea to reach out and see if other students could also engage in levelheaded discussions about politics.
“I believe that America is plagued by the inability to have a civil dialogue and even here at a private institution we are unable to have talks across political divides,” said Barrett.
She recruited her fellow members of the College Democrats club and asked Fredette, a member of the College Republicans, to invite other members and engage in an informal discussion. Jeremy Kaler, associate director of Student Engagement and advisor to the Student Civil Union, provided funding and food for the events, but let Barrett and Fredette take the lead for the discussion.
Although Barrett and Fredette admitted the first meeting consisted of only 15 students, both agreed that having smaller groups “fill the table” made students feel more like they were talking to their peers rather than a horde of political adversaries.
According to Fredette, “People shouldn’t be afraid to talk about politics with people who don’t agree with them. We want everyone to hear each other’s background and what shaped their point of view.”
While fewer students attended Monday’s meeting, that did not stop the seven students in attendance from getting into thought-provoking debates on hot-button issues such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide and human development.
The first half hour saw students debating whether Fairfield should sell condoms to students through the Stag Spirit store, with both sides citing religious and social arguments. Fredette argued that a Catholic institution shouldn’t be obligated to fund and promote sexual activity among its students, while others like Emily Hayes ‘17 argued it could promote safe sex practices.
While some topics were debated at length by various students, Barrett and Fredette ensured the discussion remained civil and students’ views were respected.
“You can disagree with what people say, but you can’t just tell them they are wrong. Nothing gets done when people just believe what they think is right is a fact,” Fredette said.
Both Barrett and Fredette believe the lack of attendance was due to their own marketing of the event. They used their respective organizations and OrgSync to spread word of the event. The pair also acknowledged the lack of conservative students who attended the discussion.
“At the prior meeting we actually had one side of conservatives and liberals going back and forth across the table discussing their ideas. We’d like more of that,” said Fredette.
“It’s important that people that don’t usually take part in events like these come and speak up so that we get to hear from both sides of the aisle, understand the opposing viewpoint more,” added Barrett.
Junior Zachary Quiñones echoed this belief, saying, “It’s always good to hear what the other side has to say. You never know if that’ll change your perspective or not.”
However, some students like Jamey Duncan ‘18 didn’t seem to show interest in the event.
“I don’t really know all that much about politics other than what I hear in the news,” he said, “I just like to focus on me and not worry myself over things that I personally cannot change in the world.”
Regardless, Barrett and Fredette hope to bring in more students for the next “Across the Aisle” event on March 20 and invite students of any political leaning to join in the dialogue.