Chatham News

Chatham students among college Democrats and Republicans offering suggestions to improve civility

By: Allegheny College
May 20, 2010

MEADVILLE, Pa. (May 20, 2010) … Student leaders of College Democrats and College Republicans organizations — representing 14 schools in nine states — released a joint statement today for elected officials and their constituents:

“Ten Tips to Improve Civility”

1. Listen willingly to opposing views.
2. Seek shared values with political opponents.
3. Acknowledge the legitimacy of your adversaries.
4. Identify the problem at hand and focus on it rather than on larger conflicts.
5. Avoid political caricatures, labels and generalizations that may not truly represent the views of your adversaries.
6. Acknowledge disagreement genuinely without suppressing your own positions.
7. Ask clarifying questions before responding.
8. Recognize the value of solutions beyond those offered by traditional party platforms.
9. Recognize that your words and actions will have consequences.
10. Be personally accountable for your political actions.

The students developed the list as one of the culminating activities of Pathway to Civility, a national conference hosted this week by the Center for Political Participation and the Civic Engagement Council at Allegheny College.

“We intended this conference to serve as a pilot program, an early step in our ongoing efforts to look for creative ways to enhance communication between young Democrats and Republicans,” said Daniel M. Shea, political science professor and director of the Center for Political Participation.

“Our idea was to encourage students from both sides of the aisle to work together to examine the serious issue of civility in politics, establish a high bar for the respectful exchange of ideas, and, in the process, perhaps begin to develop some lasting friendships.

“We were quite impressed both with the students’ passion for issues and with their determination to work together to create opportunities to reach consensus where possible. Civility, it seems, may be one of those areas for agreement.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, Pa. 3rd District, was the keynote speaker. Participants included students from Allegheny College, Louisiana State University, Catholic University, Central Michigan University, Macalester University, Chatham University, Hiram College, Indiana University – Purdue University, Slippery Rock University, SUNY Fredonia, Thiel College, California University of Pennsylvania, Winthrop University and the University of Florida.

“The conference was very interesting,” said Amanda McCann, a political science major at Indiana University-Purdue University and vice president of the College Republicans on her campus. “It changed my perception of civility, really deepened my understanding of the concept.”

According to Shea, the need for a conference on civility emerged as the American health care debate turned ugly in recent months. The robust political activity that surged among youth in the 2008 election already has substantially declined, Shea said, and many young Americans have turned away from active political engagement.

“I hope our conversation will continue on Facebook, maintaining both its passionate yet civil tone and allowing students to participate from different parts of the country,” said Matt Lacombe, an Allegheny senior pursuing a double major in economics and political science and a minor in philosophy.

Late last month the Center for Political Participation released results of a study on civility and compromise in American politics, “Nastiness, Name-Calling, and Negativity,” which revealed widespread concern over the deterioration of the tone of political discourse.

About the Study
“Nastiness, Name-Calling, and Negativity,” one of the first comprehensive studies of how Americans view the tone of political discourse, was released on April 21 and found that some 95 percent of Americans believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy, and 87 percent suggest it is possible for people to disagree about politics respectfully. It sprang from a comprehensive telephone survey of 1,000 adults nationwide, developed and commissioned by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College. The poll was conducted by Zogby International during the last week of March, immediately following the historic health care debate. The complete report, which includes dozens of charts and graphs that illustrate the survey results, is available at www.allegheny.edu/civility. The findings yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.