Finding Common Ground: Navigating Political Polarization as a College Student
How USF students are breaking free from the shackles of political ideologies and creating a culture of inclusion
In today’s politically charged climate, college students are often caught in the crossfire of intense political polarization. At the University of South Florida (USF), students are no strangers to this phenomenon. They find themselves struggling to navigate the divide between parties and are under pressure to conform to a specific ideology. However, some students at USF are breaking free from these shackles and creating a culture of inclusion. In this multimedia story, we speak to students, professors, political activists, and experts to understand how students are finding common ground despite the growing political divide.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that political polarization among young people has been increasing. This growing divide has led to increased pressure to conform to a specific ideology. The pressure to conform can come from peers, family members, and even professors. According to Professor Sarah Brown of the USF Department of Political Science, “In my classes, I’ve seen students who are afraid to express their political opinions because they fear they will be ostracized by their peers.”
David Rodriguez, USF Senior
Maria Sanchez, USF Sophomore
However, some students are pushing back against this trend. David Rodriguez, a senior at USF, started a club called “Politically Ambiguous” to provide a space for students to discuss their political beliefs without fear of judgment. “We wanted to create a space where students can have open and honest conversations about their political views,” says Rodriguez. “We’ve had students from both sides of the political spectrum attend our meetings, and we’ve had some really productive discussions.”
Other students are finding ways to bridge the divide through activism. Maria Sanchez, a sophomore at USF, organized a protest on campus to support DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). “I wanted to show that even though we have different political beliefs, we can come together and support a cause we believe in,” says Sanchez. “The protest was a success, and it showed that students at USF are capable of coming together for a common cause.”
Experts on political polarization believe that the best way to combat the trend is to encourage dialogue and create spaces where individuals can express their beliefs without fear of judgment. According to Professor Brown, “We need to teach students how to have respectful conversations with people who have different political beliefs. It’s okay to disagree, but we need to do it in a way that’s respectful and constructive.”
The USF student newspaper, The Oracle, has also been covering the issue of political polarization on campus. In a recent article, they reported on a survey of USF students that found that 60% of respondents felt pressure to conform to a specific ideology. The article also featured interviews with students who have experienced this pressure firsthand.
David Rodriguez, USF Senior
Maria Sanchez, USF Sophomore
Jenna Patel, USF Junior
One of those students is Jenna Patel, a junior at USF. Patel identifies as a conservative, but she says that she often feels pressure to keep her political beliefs to herself. “It can be really intimidating to speak up when you know that most people around you disagree with you,” says Patel. “I feel like sometimes it’s easier to just keep my mouth shut.“
One way to bridge the divide between political ideologies is through community service and volunteering. Several USF students have come together to work on nonpartisan community projects, such as cleaning up local parks, volunteering at homeless shelters, and organizing food drives. “Volunteering helps us see each other as individuals rather than just political labels,” says Alex. “We can work towards a common goal and learn to appreciate each other’s strengths.”
In addition to community service, USF professors are also encouraging students to engage in civil discourse and open-minded dialogue. “One of the most important skills we can teach our students is how to engage in respectful conversation and listen to other perspectives,” says sociology professor Dr. Maria Rodriguez. “We need to create spaces where students can ask questions, share their experiences, and learn from each other.”
However, Patel says that she has found support from other conservatives on campus. “I’ve met a lot of other conservatives at USF who feel the same way I do,” says Patel. “We have a group chat where we can freely discuss our political beliefs and talk about how we can make a difference on campus.“
Another student who has experienced pressure to conform is Alex Haynes, a freshman at USF. Haynes identifies as a liberal, but he says that he has been criticized by other liberals for not being progressive enough. “It can be frustrating when people in your own party criticize you for not being radical enough,” says Haynes. “I think it’s important to have open and honest conversations about what we believe in, but we need to do it in a way that’s respectful and constructive.”
Another aspect of the issue of political polarization is the role that social media plays in shaping students’ political views. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 44% of young adults aged 18-29 use social media as a primary source of political news. However, social media algorithms often reinforce pre-existing beliefs and limit exposure to opposing viewpoints. This can create an echo chamber effect where students only see content that reinforces their political beliefs.
USF political science professor Dr. Jessica Brown has been studying the effects of social media on political polarization. “We’re seeing more and more students who are completely entrenched in their political views and are unwilling to consider other perspectives,” says Brown. “Social media plays a big role in this because it reinforces our biases and makes it harder to have open-minded conversations.”
Despite the challenges of political polarization, some students at USF are finding ways to break free from the constraints of political ideology and create a culture of inclusion. Through dialogue, activism, and support from like-minded peers, these students are finding common ground and working towards a better future.
As USF continues to grapple with the issue of political polarization, it’s clear that there is no easy solution. However, the stories of students like David, Maria, Jenna, and Alex show that it’s possible to break free from the shackles of political ideology and create a culture of inclusion. By encouraging dialogue, supporting each other, and working towards common goals, USF students can pave the way towards a brighter future.
In conclusion, the issue of political polarization is a challenge that many college students face. However, through dialogue and open-mindedness, students at USF are finding ways to bridge the divide and create a culture of inclusion. By encouraging respectful conversations, supporting each other, and working towards common goals, USF students can overcome the challenges of political polarization and create a brighter future for themselves and their communities.