When it comes to politics, there’s one thing Bruna Afonso and Andrew Bell can agree on: They don’t always agree.
“Andrew and I met fall quarter of freshman year in our first political science class,” Bruna remembers. From their very first discussion, “I would think in my head, ‘How does this guy think these things?’ We were such polar opposites.”
But here’s the thing: Andrew and Bruna are actually friends. The two are co-leaders of Seattle Pacific’s Political Union, a group that creates a space for the discussion of political affairs on campus, focusing on a multi-party platform for political discourse.
Rejecting the allure of polarization
Too often, people with specific political beliefs only surround themselves with others who think like they do. This creates a self-confirming bias; meaning that it’s rare to hear the other side of the story, and it becomes too easy to think we know the correct answer to everything.
For Bruna, this type of dialogue is the marked difference that makes her friendship with Andrew so unique … and so valuable. “We get into arguments all the time,” she laughs, “And then we’ll have really great discussions, but it’s been deeply rooted in our friendship.”
Creating a space for authentic, respectful dialogue
“It’s a dialogue among different students from across the political spectrum, and Bruna and Andrew are really able to help facilitate a much, much deeper discussion,” says Assistant Professor of Political Science Bradley Murg. “[You] move away from the idea of being sort of siloed with your one group.”
Yet when these discussions arise, people still inevitably feel offended, and feelings can get hurt. Whenever this happens, Andrew says, they try to talk about it. “There’s a priority placed on reconciliation and restoration of that relationship, rather than just going off and nursing your wounds,” he says.
Professors who focus on facts, not commentary
As a Christian community, this spirit of listening to, learning from, and seeking to understand each other is just as important in the classroom. When it comes to your professors, don’t assume you know exactly where they stand on the political spectrum.
“I often start my classes — especially ones in political science — with the statement, ‘If at the end of this class, you know what I actually think about this topic, or you know my views, then I will have failed,’” says Murg, who is also director of SPU’s Global Development Studies program.
“My job is not to tell you which theory to think is correct, my job is to present to you: Here’s the complete set of theories we have, here’s how we’re understanding this topic, and here’s the evidence for each.”
Learning to be OK with the gray
In a world that makes plenty of money off of highlighting our differences and encouraging us towards more knee-jerk, emotional reactions, Murg seeks to create a classroom environment that is definitively different.
“Something that’s not black and white isn’t problematic,” he says. “It’s not something to be fearful of. A lot of the world is gray. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the world, and it’s our job to try to understand it and to reduce that ambiguity, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it. I don’t think our students are afraid of it. I think that they’re much more able to confront these issues.”
Commitment to actively pursuing grace-filled community
Of course, it’s always a learning process. Part of living in community is realizing that none of us will be perfect, and we’ll all disappoint or let each other down at some point. But, at the end of the day, God’s grace — and seeking to live like Jesus did — is something the SPU community does our very best to keep at the center of all we do.
“All it takes is compromise,” Murg says. “And viewing each other with respect as fellow Christians simply makes that so much simpler.”