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The model of civility

November 2, 2020

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While the Nov. 3 presidential election has been fraught with divisiveness and increased polarization, Saint Mary’s has found reason for hope. In a university wide initiative that began in September, the Office of the President, Student Affairs and the Provost joined the Student Senate and the presidents of the College Democrats and Republicans to advocate for voter registration and civic engagement. In addition, Dr. Brian Schmisek, provost and dean of Faculties, and Dr. Tim Gossen, vice president of Student Affairs, along with many faculty and administrators, sponsored several panel discussions including pre-debate discussions on civil discourse, “Catholic Principles for Voting,” and “Civic Virtues in the Classroom.”

Jonathon Krull, president of the College Republicans, and Clare Bath, president of the College Democrats, provided a united front on two issues: empowering students to vote and the need to model civil discourse, particularly during this contentious national election. It was that shared love for the democratic process and the campus community that motivated them to dedicate countless hours advocating and educating. Both college political leaders believed the responsibility to vote was more crucial than party. Bath and Krull assisted with hosting a voter registration drive, included voting information in newsletters and on social media, put up flyers with informational QR codes; passed out “I will vote” stickers; and spoke to classes. Bath alone spoke to 30 classes about how to register to vote, and the various voting options.

Bath and Krull had the opportunity to join a conversation about young voters on MPR News with Kerri Miller. Bath shared the enthusiasm of Saint Mary’s University students, “Everyone’s expecting everyone to participate. There is no taboo about it. It was really awesome, it was really positive, and it was honestly a great way to bring the community together, even if we have different views. I am really proud of our university for working that well.” Krull commented on the perspective of this generation, stating, “I think it is a mix of voting and activism. I think our generation has felt we have reached a breaking point where the current politicians have put off these issues for the past generation or so, and the current generation feels like it’s our turn to right some of those wrongs.”

Bath and Krull believe our nation’s leaders, representing both major parties, can and should do better. They’re tired of what they call hyperpartisanship, increased fear mongering, and name calling. The two also cooperated on an opinion article that ran in the Star Tribune Oct. 31. As they shared, “Often, national politics is engulfed by hyperpartisanship, but at Saint Mary’s our students are promoting civil discourse and understanding.”

Saint Mary’s University is hosting an interfaith prayer service for peace and civility during and after the election. The event will be viewable, beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3. All are welcome to this largely student-led virtual event. Based on the reaction to the civil discourse campaign prior to the election, campus leaders will develop a list of resources and continue the dialogues focusing on civic engagement and a culture of respect. Bath and Krull articulated their vision, writing, “We hope to see national politics emphasize the same values as Saint Mary’s students: valuing the opinions of others and respectfully engaging in political conversation.”