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Students start non-partisan discussion group on campus

Barry McNamara
10/25/2018
Pictured from left are Emma Hildebrand, political science professor Andre Audette and Joe Doner.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Two students have crossed the aisle to start a non-partisan political discussion group at Monmouth College.

Emma Hildebrand ’20, a political science major from Mendon, Ill., is a member of Monmouth’s College Republicans club. Joe Doner ’21, an international studies and environmental studies double major from Arlington Heights, Ill., is a member of College Democrats.

They’ve both grown weary of the divided political environment in the United States, and they’re hoping their group – known for now by the working title “The Discussion Group” – will enable both sides to find common ground.

“I’m hoping that we can find a way to bridge some of the gaps and fix some of the polarization that we’re seeing across America today,” said Hildebrand. “That’s my main goal. ... The purpose of the group is to give people the opportunity to voice their opinions, to hear other people’s opinions and to learn. People who don’t know anything and people who know everything about topics can come and get more involved.”

Monmouth political science professor Andre Audette advises the students, who are attempting to address what he calls “a persistent problem” of apathy among 18- to 22-year-olds.

“College students vote at lower rates than other groups,” said Audette. “They show lower interest in politics than other groups. We want to get more students interested and engaged in what’s happening in the world, because at the end of the day, (all levels of politics) affect everyone’s lives.”

‘It’s OK to be gray’

The students plan for the group to meet at least twice a month, and it’s possible the meetings will occur even more regularly if issues heat up.

“I’m trying very hard to be the moderator and letting everybody know it’s not going to be an insult session,” Hildebrand said of the meetings. “I want it to be an airing out of all ideas, for everybody to be exposed to ideas that other people have, because that’s how we get innovation. We don’t get innovation by having one mode of thought and sticking with that the whole time. I really want this to be a place where people can see they have similarities and see that they don’t have to be black and white on everything – it’s OK to be gray.”

Both Hildebrand and Doner are interested in law school after Monmouth and staying involved in politics no matter where that track takes them.

“I got interested in politics from watching the news when I was younger with my parents,” said Doner. “Just seeing things happen and thinking ‘Why does that happen, and what can I do about that?’”

Hildebrand recalled writing “a very detailed essay about gas prices” when she was in third grade and, a few years later, being “drawn in even further by the 2012 election, watching all the debates.”

Topical discussions

Hildebrand said that some of The Discussion Group’s meetings will have a selected topic, but “with the way the world’s going, we’ll probably just be able to pick something that’s happened in the last 24 hours and talk about that.”

Audette hopes Monmouth students will take advantage of the opportunity.

“Especially in today’s polarized times, a lot of people see politics as a dirty game that they don’t want to get involved in, or that you need to have a lot of information before you get involved,” he said. “But it really is something that affects everyone, and everyone has a right to be involved. This discussion group and other college groups are really important because they help people decide what they believe and how they’re going to act on those beliefs. Once people start getting that information, they can really start getting involved in the world.”