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‘Disagree Better’ discusses political differences in higher education

After+Colorado+State+University+President+Amy+Parsons+asked+a+question+to+Colorado+Gov.+Jared+Polis+and+Utah+Gov.+Spencer+Cox%2C+Gov.+Polis+answered+Nov+15.
Collegian | Julia Percy
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox answer a question asked by CSU President Amy Parsons Nov 15. CSU held a discussion between the two governors about how to have healthy disagreements in politics.

Colorado State University students, staff and alumni joined Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox in a discussion as part of the National Governors Association’s Disagree Better initiative. The event was hosted by CSU as part of the university’s thematic year of democracy Nov. 15.

“This year we’re embarking on a special thematic year of democracy, bringing in democracy to all that we do in our classrooms — even in our art galleries, in our theater productions and all across campus — focused on voter registration and student participation,” CSU President Amy Parsons said. 

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As NGA Chair and Vice Chair, Cox and Polis are working to teach youth how to foster healthy debate and freedom of expression, specifically in higher education. 

“The problem is when people don’t feel like they can share their views (is) when we start self-censoring,” Cox said. “There’s some new data out that shows that there’s like 70% of students (who) are self-censoring right now on campus. They don’t feel comfortable expressing their views.”

The Disagree Better initiative aims to reduce the effects of political polarization occurring around the country, which can be catastrophic to democracy. 

“I love our country; I care deeply about our country, and I think this is not just the issue of the year — I think it’s the issue of our generation,” Cox said. “It is the single most important issue in our country today.”

While wanting to tune out during difficult discussions can be a natural response, the governors touched on how not engaging can do more harm than good in political conversations. 

“It’s not just the danger of the vitriolic rhetoric, it’s the danger that the rest of us tune out because it seems so unpleasant and so derogatory,” Polis said. “And that’s, in many ways, the worst thing that could happen for civil society.” 

In addition to tuning into conversations, it is also important to remain curious and keep an open mind when engaging in political discourse. 

“I encourage people always to be curious,” Cox said. “If you can walk into a hostile situation and say to yourself, ‘OK, not the probability that I’m wrong but the possibility that I might be wrong.’”

However, speaking with an open mind does not mean someone must abandon their values to engage in difficult conversations. 

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“You do not have to give up on your principles at all, and you shouldn’t,” Cox said.

“Disagreeing better doesn’t mean don’t disagree; people have different values, different faiths (and) different political opinions,” Polis said. “That’s what makes our democracy in our country so wonderful.”

With that said, the governors also focused on the importance of keeping one’s political views from defining them. 

“Do not define yourself,” Cox said. “If that’s how you think of yourself first, as a conservative or progressive or liberal or whatever, then you’re doing something wrong, and it’s really unhealthy. Politics has become a religion for far too many people.”

Younger generations may be used to severe polarization in American politics, but this is not always how it has been. 

“This is not normal — … you may think that this is what politics is; it is not,” Cox said. “Do not accept that this is the way it has to be. We can do better, and we need your help.”

At the end of the day, Americans share a common goal to flourish despite disagreements and political differences. 

“But what’s also important is we’re all Americans, and we need to come together around rooting for the same side, and that’s (for) our country to succeed, not rooting for half of America to fail (but) rooting for all of us to succeed together,” Polis said.

Reach McKenna Van Voris and Laila Shekarchian at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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