Do Not Disturb: Many Students Do Not Participate in Political Discussions at School

Do Not Disturb: Many Students Do Not Participate in Political Discussions at School

Photo Illustration by Sofia Heller and Alison Oh

Brynn*’s ’19 mother does not believe in global warming, no matter how many articles Brynn has sent her. After years of frustration, Brynn said she’s given up.

“I realized people are rooted in their opinions and they are not going to change,” Brynn said. “There’s no point.”

This same mentality has affected her on another front: politics. Brynn said that if reputable sources couldn’t change her mother’s mind, then she won’t have the power to make a difference. For that reason, she said, she doesn’t participate in political discussions.

“At this point in time, it doesn’t really matter,” Brynn said. “None of our opinions have a direct effect by themselves.”

The feeling is not uncommon. According to a Chronicle poll of 319 students, 42 percent said they don’t participate in political discussions.

Landon Poon ’20 said he only notices a small amount of political discussion in the school environment.

“A majority of the school doesn’t talk about politics with their friends,” Poon said. “Obviously there are political conversations, but most of the time students talk about personal topics and sports.”

Age can also contribute to students’ unwillingness to participate in political conversation. Although Daisy Wan ’20 said she believes general political awareness was important for the future, she said it didn’t concern her as much because she is a student.

“I’m not really at that age that I care that much yet,” Wan said. “I kind of don’t worry about it too much. I try not to get my opinion out there because it’s not my place to say anything.”

Evan Keare ’18 agreed that a sense of helplessness prevents her from contributing in political discourse.

“I feel overwhelmed, and I feel like so much is going on, but there are so few things I can do to change it,” Keare said. “There are so many things I don’t agree with, but what can you do about it? Even people who have power can’t do anything.”

Despite her interest in politics, Keare said she felt that the constant stream of overwhelming news created an unwelcome atmosphere that deterred her from participating in political discussions.

“It’s exhausting and depressing for me,” Keare said. “I like politics, and I know enough about it to have an intelligent conversation if I want. I just don’t want to engage. It’s just exhausting.”

Francis de Beixedon ’19 said the never-ending news cycle motivates him to distance himself from a conversation about these events.

“I get tired of the endless headlines,” de Beixedon said. “All the stuff happening has made me kind of jaded. It made me sort of disenchanted with everything that has been going on.”

The major factor, de Beixedon said, is the toxicity of some discussions. This sentiment is not uncommon: 36 percent of respondents cite the toxic nature of discussions and the potential of losing friends as a deterrent from political discussions.

“It’s divisive, and it makes you lose your friends,” Poon said. “If your friends disagree with you, people get really pissed. You want to keep everyone on your good side.”

Ryan Wixen ’19 suggested improving political conversations by looking at them as opportunities to be open to learning about others’ opinions and contribute based on personal beliefs rather than political ideals.

“I don’t argue for left or right values because they are left or right,” Wixen said. “Just, if someone is having a conversation about something and it is something that matters to me, I’ll talk about it.”

Kevin Taylor, who is a West Valley Area Representative of the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement, acknowledged the importance of political discussion and representation on a more technical level. He explained an ongoing cycle between students, who are dissuaded from entering politics because they feel overlooked, and politicians, who further disregard the needs and perspectives of those students because they are insignificant to their political success.

“Whose responsibility is it to break this cycle?” Taylor said. “There are a certain set of people in power that count on your being cynical about participating in the process. Every time you decide that there is no reason to participate, they claim your decision as a victory. The decision to break that is on you.”

Political Discourse Club leader JP Cherry ’18 acknowledged the responsibility of students to participate in political discussions in order to establish a foundation for the future.

“The political situation in our nation and world is at a critical point,” Cherry said. “It is incumbent upon us to view the present as an opportunity to safeguard our future, rather than allow ourselves to slip into numbing complacency with the status quo. Ethical political engagement doesn’t guarantee a stable world, but a policy of apathy guarantees there won’t be a world worth living in.”

Upper school dean Celso Cardenas acknowledged that it might be difficult to balance political involvement with student life, but suggested students remain engaged in current events.

“I think students do slide over the fact that they do have power and that they do have a voice,” Cardenas said. “It’s one of the things I regret. I wasn’t so politicized until the latter part of my high school career. There’s all sorts of reasons, like the pressures of school and other involvements, but I think there are so many things that are bigger and greater, and more important, that I would encourage them to get involved.”

To tackle difficult political issues, Cardenas suggested taking a break from the stream of news occasionally.“

There’s so much going on, on a day-to-day basis,” Cardenas said. “We need to infuse a little bit of self-care here, and it’s okay to step away from things. I think people should remain engaged and recognize all the good there is. Don’t ever feel so overwhelmed that it makes you completely freeze or stifles you in any way. There’s such a great power in using your voice and activism.”

Taylor said he recommended those questioning their ability to make an impact to first tackle things on a smaller scale.

“I subscribe to the old adage of ‘think globally, act locally,’” Taylor said. “It’s important to remain curious about the world and keep tabs on as much as you can, but to really affect change, it starts in our own neighborhoods.”

Taylor emphasized the power of the unique voices students have and said his drive to participate in political discussions is continually reinforced by the benefits of his actions.

“Keep in mind, when you speak up, you are speaking for many who either can’t or won’t speak for themselves,” Taylor said. “Your voice is that much more powerful. Making a difference in someone’s life, being a voice willing to make an impact, this is the fuel that drives me to keep doing.”

*names have been changed

 

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