Section: Features

BridgeKenyon group encourages ‘transpartisan’ discussions

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, five publications with widely varied approaches (Campus Constitutional, A Medio Camino, the Kenyon Observer, the Kenyon Thrill and the Kenyon Collegian) met in Higley Auditorium. They were there to discuss the role student journalism plays in Kenyon on a panel hosted by a new student organization, BridgeKenyon. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether we play the card game,” said George Goldman ’19, one of the leaders of Bridge Kenyon, while introducing the panel, “so I’d like to just say a few words about our organization, and who we are.”

To some, BridgeKenyon may appear to be a political group that promotes bipartisanship. It’s the only liberal arts branch of a national organization, BridgeUSA, dedicated to “ideological diversity,” according to their website.  BridgeKenyon’s members clarified that while many of the conversations they host encourage their participants to entertain different points of views, they are not a centrist organization. “We are not designed to have people who lean to the right or the left come out of our meetings a moderate,” Goldman said. “We think that civility has a connotation of regulating what you’re saying in order to be more ‘correct.’” Goldman also stressed the importance of personal feelings in debate. “There’s this kind of pitiful phrase; ‘facts don’t care about your feelings’ — I think they do!” Goldman said.

The decision to include Campus Constitutional, a conservative publication whose views are perceived as controversial by many on campus, is an example of BridgeKenyon’s decision not to modify the viewpoints of their participants. BridgeKenyon acknowledged that some students feel Campus Constitutional  has caused harm. “We understand the potential of a conversation to not work or shut down when there is genuine harm induced by words,” Goldman said. Despite this, the group stood by their choice to host the journal on their panel. “They were saying that things they heard from their community were very isolating. That came from the other side, saying that pieces they saw in their paper made them feel angry and hurt. It’s clear that that’s not something that only one side of the political spectrum feels,” said Phillip Brain ’21, who made the decision to invite the publication,

Participants in BridgeKenyon’s discussions are never asked to state their political affiliation, but Goldman believes with some certainty that a wide majority of those who choose to attend BridgeKenyon’s meetings identify as left-wing or left of center. However, Goldman criticizes the assumption in American politics that each party is a monolith. “I am not about trying to burst people’s political bubbles,” Goldman said. Brain pointed out how many right-of-center Americans vote Democrat, especially at this point in American history. “The idea of political diversity is obscured in the United States,” Goldman said, “because the centrist window is so far to the right.”

Besides future plans for similar panels, BridgeKenyon hosts weekly discussions in Leach Dining Hall and Gund Gallery every Sunday on topics such as tax policy and the philosophy of the liberal arts. Each meeting begins with the readings from non-partisan think tanks to establish a factual basis for discussion. Then, the participants read opinion pieces, to understand popular arguments associated with the discussion topic. If interest in the group continues to grow, the leaders of BridgeKenyon hope to experiment with different discussion formats. BridgeKenyon calls one of these potential formats “Political Speed-Dating,” where participants move from table to table for brief discussions of contemporary political issues.

“The vast majority of our future politicians, non-profit organizers, lobbyists, presidents are sitting next to us in class,” said Goldman. “If we want the Congress and just in general governance of the country to improve, we fundamentally believe that our years at college are a training ground for that.”

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