On Feb. 21, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) came to speak about the importance of bipartisanship in government and of ideological diversity on college campuses. Introduced by Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont as “one of the last survivors of a once-common species of moderate New England government officials,” she has voted on both sides of the aisle on divisive legislative issues, extracting key concessions on the recently passed GOP tax bill to help make insurance coverage affordable for thousands. Despite her immeasurable political capital during polarized times, often acting as the make-or-break vote in Congress, Collins’ visit did not garner much attention among our typically political student body.
Unlike recent talks held in Cohen, Senator Collins’ talk took place in ASEAN, a smaller auditorium in Cabot. Even though the event was not ticketed and seats were not reserved, students petered in late. The auditorium was full, but there was a relatively high proportion of adults compared to other Tufts speaker events.
A U.S. Senator of over 20 years, amidst the current chaos in Washington, took a break to talk at our university in Medford, Massachusetts. You’d think students, particularly politically engaged ones, would jump at the chance to hear from and debate with her. Yet it seemed like the student body didn’t really care much at all. There are a lot of possible reasons why, but the most obvious is the “R” beside her name.
Tufts’ political slant is no secret, nor is it a problem in and of itself. The large volume of liberal voices in campus discourse is not an anomaly; Tufts’ liberalism follows other trends that have shown bodies of higher education growing increasingly progressive.
The real issue is the disconnect between Tufts students’ supposed goals of open-mindedness versus the actual steps we take to achieve them. Tufts’ undergraduate population is made up of over 5,500 intelligent students with the intent to grow and expand their horizons throughout their time here. We all know that ideological homogeneity does not foster the same kind of debate as a variety of perspectives would, and often we hear students pleading for a civil platform to enter bipartisan dialogue. The thing is, we already have a lot of those resources.
The Susan Collins event was just one of many outlets the university has provided to engage in bipartisanship. Other speaker events such as Governor Charlie Baker and Republican political analyst Bill Kristol provided similar outlets to hear perspectives of accomplished conservatives and a platform to directly challenge them in conversation. Current opportunities to get involved on campus include joining CIVIC, a student organization supported by Tisch College, which hosts weekly political conversations, providing a space for bipartisan debate.
As students at a university that strives to promote active citizenship, polarization is an issue that the entire Tufts student body should care about, not only the politically inclined. So when we are presented with voices like Collins, divergent from our own but not abhorrent or irrational, we should show up, listen and engage with enthusiasm. Even the student who thinks Collins’ politics are repugnant should be able to challenge her positions at the Q&A.
Susan Collins poignantly noted that “Even for those that I vehemently disagree with those on the far left and the far right, I recognized that though they have a very different viewpoint, that they still love this country, they still want what is best for Americans.” We should recognize these qualities in speakers like Collins. Instead of just paying lip service to the virtues of bipartisanship, we should seize opportunities to engage in mindful discourse.