Junior microbiology major Kyle Cacciatore and junior political science major Ty Sarvis sat down over coffee at The Coffee House on Thursday, Oct. 18, to discuss their different political views.
“Converge Nebraska,” a political discussion series sponsored by the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, paired the two together for their dialogue.
Cacciatore and Sarvis said they were surprised by their placement because they already knew each other as members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Even with their familiarity, they said the conversation was still enlightening because it helped them understand each other’s beliefs.
“What ends we want for our country and for the world were fairly similar despite different notions we had of what were properly means for that, so that was cool,” Sarvis said.
ASUN and the Government Liaison Committee (GLC) started “Converge Nebraska” to promote civil political engagement by pairing together University of Nebraska-Lincoln students with different political beliefs.
According to speaker of the senate Jared Long, 84 people signed up to participate. ASUN gave participants a discussion guide to help facilitate the discussion and specifically learn more about the reasons behind a participant’s political beliefs.
Long said he hoped the conversations would create respect even where there’s disagreement.
“Each of us should have a basis for why we believe what we do,” he said. “I think starting the dialogue of how we all come from our own perspective can facilitate like, ‘I respect that. I may not come from that perspective, but I realize now that your opinions are rooted in something that’s near and dear to you.’”
Long said participants signed up through a Google form, which asked them to rate their agreement with statements on a scale of one to five, with a one being most conservative and a five being most liberal.
ASUN and GLC added each participants’ answers to create a point total. The point total was divided into four categories: a left-leaning category, two middle categories and a right-leaning category.
People in the liberal and conservative categories were each paired with a person in a middle category who leaned in the opposite direction.
Participants were notified of their partners and arranged to meet before Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Long said the process of pairing people together was a bit difficult, but GLC members did their best to match people with different political beliefs and similar schedules.
“It certainly was no perfect system, and I think it would have been easier if we had more balanced registrations,” Long said. “I think even if people were fairly similar in their perspectives, they’re going to be able to find a place of divergence and, at the very least, be able to discuss how we can still learn to disagree.”
Cacciatore and Sarvis said their discussion strayed away from the discussion guide, and they talked about different political ideologies and whether it would be possible to implement them. They also said they talked about the harmful effects of political polarization.
Cacciatore said the discussion would have been different if they did not know each other prior to their meeting, and he might not have shared as much information with a stranger. However, he said he believes talking about politics is important and he would participate in an event like “Converge Nebraska” again.
“It made me more open to the idea of learning more about [different political ideologies] because I don’t want to be that person that would wrongfully judge someone because I’m not educated on what he’s talking about,” Cacciatore said. “ [I want to] keep furthering myself [and] keep educating myself on different issues.”
Although fewer than Long’s goal of 100 people signed up, he said he is pleased with the amount participating. He said he hopes the participants gain respect for each other.
“As long as we can have an atmosphere on campus that promotes a respect of, ‘We’re in this together, and we might have different perspectives, but let’s find ways we can work together,’” Long said. “I think the ripple effect on campus that I’d like to see from ‘Converge’ or think we could see is contributing to that atmosphere and reaffirming that both students and administrators are committed to free speech and civility and discourse.”