Elections and dialogue on college campuses

Jessie Nguyen
Marketing and Communication Specialist
June 3, 2024
·
5
min read

Constructive Dialogue Institute's guidebook models safe civil discourse on political topics 📚

Student affairs staff and campus administrators were unprepared when election polarization and toxicity took campuses by surprise in 2016. New boundaries of free speech and campus protests set a never-before-seen precedent, though they briefly subsided as social distancing procedures coincided with the 2020 election.

To better strategize ahead of this year’s November 5 and to maintain a peaceful and civil campus environment throughout the 2024 election, the Constructive Dialogue Institute translated behavioral science research into educational resources and teaching strategies packed in this election guidebook, “Maintain Campus Community During the 2024 Election: A Guide for Leaders, Faculty, and Staff.” Here are the takeaways.

Strategies for Leaders

1. Evaluate your language: Try to notice words that alienate groups and work with them to frame your communication and programming in a nonpartisan way.
2. Walk the talk: Endorse and model constructive dialogue which should transform conflict, foster belonging, and build trust among other goals.
3. Revise and update policy: Institutions should regularly review and revise policies regarding free expression, political activities and events to ensure they are fair and transparent, and offer clarifications as needed.
4. Engage proactively with campus hot spots: Conduct proactive outreach among campus stakeholders, especially those who represent the specific community groups, as most conflicts are too nuanced and contextual to be settled by policy alone.
5. Coordinate cross-campus efforts: Efforts like achieving a Voter Friendly Campus designation at the University of Northern Colorado help bridge organizational barriers that separate students and the administrations.


Strategies for faculty and staff

1. Establish election-related norms with students: Set clear expectations for respectful and civil discourse in the classroom.
2. Foster student agency: At the University of Delaware, the Blue Hen poll is an annual public opinion survey conducted for students by students.
3. Prepare for aftercare: Many campuses use mechanisms to check in regularly with students like EdSights, an AI-powered messaging service for students at the Ohio Northern University.
4. Introduce low-stakes practice opportunity: Start election-oriented discussions before the election and be aware of your political leanings when interacting with students.
5. Initiate dialogue across differences during orientation: Introduce these dialogues during orientation to lay the foundation for constructive engagement on campus.

Click here to read the full guidebook and see strategies for civic engagement and DEI centers.

Village SquareCast: The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization

Toxic polarization and conflict seem to creep their way into almost everywhere — in your family, at work and in your civic life. Guest and Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University Peter Coleman gave his insights into the state of polarization in America and how polarization can be a good thing in a two-party system.

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This week, we feature episodes that explore the power of dialogue and the role of civil discourse in bridging polarization, political divides and social and economic inequality. For a full list of episodes on this topic, check out this playlist on our blog.

Our Body Politic: The Rising Danger Of Extremism In America

Extremism comes in different forms in which a large-scale example is the January 6 insurrection. Extremist behaviors plague the country and our democracy and are sometimes masked under patriotism. This episode discusses the American identity, being patriots and what victory looks like when co-creating a future that we want to live in.

Politics In Question: Is America too polarized or too fragmented?

Political dysfunction poses threats to effective governance and polarizes the state of politics in America. As a result and as discussed in the episode, coalitions are ideologically at odds with each other and voters are unsure of what they're voting for. Guest Rick Pildes from the New York University School of Law breaks down the effectiveness of a government and analyzes America's dysfunctional political environment.

Let's Find Common Ground: Disagree Better: Politics Across Divides With Utah Governor Spencer Cox

Contrary to popular beliefs, disagreeing better is not another feel-good initiative but rather a scientifically driven method of conflict resolution in a pluralistic society. This conversation focuses on coming together on a larger scale at the state level with an emphasis on Republican and Democratic governors.

Dialogues playlist

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