Vander Graaff: We need to include everyone in political discourse

Abby Vander

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Bipartisan. Filibuster. Gerrymander. Do you know what these words mean? Could you explain them to a five-year-old? Do you know more obscure terms, such as “fishing expedition,” “muckraker” or “pork barrel”?


Those of us who graduate will join the record-breaking 33.4 percent of Americans who have obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. As students, we have overwhelming amounts of influence and opportunity that we share with a small fraction of the population.

But can you define each of the terms I listed above?

The words we use to talk about politics have become as complex as politics itself. 

Together, as Colorado State University undergrads, we make up over 25,000 students. We possess an opportunity to acquire knowledge that many people around us do not. As college students and hopefully as graduates we will make more money than others, and we already have a large sway at the polls. 

In the last midterm election, 67 percent of young people swayed the vote in favor of Democratic candidates, according to the Pew Research Center

According to an article from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, scholars Delli Carpini and Keeter note that the political knowledge of college graduates today matches that of high school graduates in the 1940s.

If we, the educated population, can’t swallow all of the jargon and intricacies of our political world, we cannot logically expect those who did not or will not attend college to do so.

Between the turmoil at the U.S.-Mexico border, gun violence and more than a smattering of other issues plaguing our nation, we need all the new ideas we can get especially while our politicians rest during the government shutdown.

The gap in political language should not stop valuable community members from chiming in to necessary contemporary political discourse.

If people don’t understand the words we use to talk about important issues, an unfortunate many of which are matters of life and death, how are they supposed to understand the dynamics of these issues?


Many probably don’t.

Politics is confusing. Even the word is confusing—a singular noun that sounds like a plural. Our nation’s political discourse is filled with idioms and historical references that make it exclusive, like an inside joke at which only our nation’s elites are laughing.

An atmosphere where so much of our population is more or less “out of the loop” makes it easy to give up trying, and easy to ignore politics. It makes it easy to become apathetic.

In today’s political climate, it is easy to perceive false enemies and to forge yourself as one of them.

The controversy surrounding the Covington Catholic High School students and their alleged harassment of a Native American elder during an indigenous rights movement is a perfect example of this. Some believe the students were chanting a school cheer to overcome insults being hurled at them in contradiction to the “Make America Great Again” hats they were wearing. Others insist their shouting was a mockery of a Native American man who was playing a drum in an effort to diffuse the situation. 

If we, the educated population, can’t swallow all of the jargon and intricacies of our political world, we cannot logically expect those who did not or will not attend college to do so.

No matter their intention, the white students possibly were oblivious to the controversy they were inviting by wearing the Make America Great Again hats to an event focused on the rights of indigenous peoples.

An individual or group’s failure to understand the increasingly complex maze of political correctness can cause them to offend someone even when the conversation began with the purest of intentions, and these conflicts can be hard to come back from.

Often times it is easier to stay angry, stay in conflict and ignore all new information in order to do so, even if it takes spreading misinformation. Let’s not help people who do this, whether they intend to or not, by isolating them even more with pretentious vocabulary.

There must have been a time when people compromised and things worked. But we can’t work together without including everyone. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at or Twitter at @abbym_vg