o-convergenebraska

I can’t talk to my dad about politics. Every discussion turns into a debate about COVID-19, about my “indoctrination” and the current fate of our democracy. As a Trump-flag-flying, faith-based midwestern conservative, my dad is not alone in his views. I am sure my situation is not unique. 

Unfortunately, we live in a time where a difference of political opinions is much more consequential than it once was. What once was an exchange of ideas has become something that can tear families apart. 

Since 2018, Association of Students of the University of Nebraska has sponsored a program called Converge Nebraska. A notification about it may have gone unnoticed in your Huskers email inbox. To sign up, you simply fill out a survey about your political ideology. You’re then paired with a student with differing views and given a discussion guide. You two connect to figure out a time and place to meet, and that’s it. You’re helping fight against partisanship in America.

If you didn’t already know from the constant media coverage since 2016, political polarization has been on the rise in the US since the mid-1990s. Polling has shown that opposing parties’ opinions of each other have become increasingly negative and Americans on average hold more polarized political views. 

Constant left or right influence from the media and our families have left us viewing politics overall as a bad thing. Increasing polarization and negative partisanship has caused the current generation to be exposed to more negative messages about political figures and politics in general. But politics don’t need to be viewed that way. Converge Nebraska allows you to engage with a healthy discourse on politics, showing that such is possible.

Young adulthood is the most influential time for the formation of political views. Being on a large college campus, UNL students — like many others their age — are met with an abundance of new opportunities for political engagement. Additionally, young adulthood is when people are most open to new ideas and experiences.

You may be firmly planted on one side of the political spectrum. But is this because of your own views or simply how you were raised? 

You may be floating around the middle ground. Conversation with peers is a great way to learn about yourself and your environment.

You may be questioning everything you ever learned about politics, government and the American dream, just like I did a couple years ago. Many of your peers are doing the same.

You are in a time of your life for new experiences, ideas and people. Engaging in political discourse is a great opportunity to do just that.

While many of us have likely heard screaming matches about elections, vaccines and whatever else was dividing the nation, most of us have not been taught what healthy political discourse looks like. In high schools across the country, teachers were challenged by partisan divide, and often struggled to teach civic engagement and critical thinking skills related to current events and government. The fear of controversy or backlash from parents led to many of us being exposed to little or no civic discourse during an important time in our political socialization.

The Trump presidency in particular made dinner-time discussions about politics a touchier subject than normal. For a number of reasons, 43% of those who approved of Trump and 57% of those who disapproved of Trump felt that they could not comfortably share their views at the dinner table.

With less exposure to politics and even less positive association, many young adults are left in a strange position. Converge Nebraska is an opportunity to explore your beliefs and expose yourself to new ones. You can learn about politics, political discourse and basic civility, whether or not you have been able to before.

Politics can get messy. Whether measuring political ideology based on party, spectrum or chart, citizens will never line up perfectly. But political discourse was a foundational element of our nation. The Constitution was written to be vague and constantly open to interpretation and definition. The very nature of a two-party system is going to lead to conflict. The only way to learn the healthy way of doing things is to try. It may be messy at first, but it can only get better from there.

So wherever your political loyalties lie, Converge Nebraska has a place for you. Registration closes this Friday, Oct. 22, at 11:59 p.m. This is just one opportunity to engage in civil political discourse; there will always be more. 

But for those of you eager to discuss, or those who have no idea where to start, consider Converge Nebraska. Join for your country, for your campus and for you. 

Megan Buffington is a freshman journalism major. Reach her at meganbuffington@dailynebraskan.com.