In WeListen’s second session of the semester, after nationwide protests brought surivors of sexual assault together against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, University of Michigan students came together to debate the institution’s politicization.
The session consisted of small group discussions, which are prefaced by an introductory session that includes instructions on how to have a productive discussion, as well as a quick run-through of facts necessary to have the discussions.
Upon arrival, students have to sign in and fill out a questionnaire. At Monday night’s session, the sign-in sheet asked about students’ political leanings and what they believe is the correct way to interpret the U.S. Constitution. This information is used to place attendees in groups that represent a diverse set of beliefs and political leanings.
During Monday night’s session, WeListen provided information on the history of the Supreme Court, and attempted to show, historically, the court has not been a very politicized institution. This was shown by a graph indicating a large number of the decisions on the court have been 9-0, with a few major exceptions. In the last century, however, the Court has historically served as a site of political tension on labor, race and women’s rights.
After the information was provided, the students broke off into small groups to discuss questions about the Supreme Court, such as how the justices should interpret the Constitution or whether justices should be appointed for life. The groups consisted of people of all different majors and ages.
The session ended with a debriefing, where the co-presidents asked participants what they learned from the group members, challenges they had, suggestions for future sessions and suggestions on how to continue the discussions.
LSA junior Vivian Righter said she felt the discussion changed the way she viewed her own stance on politics.
“What I’ve taken away from it is being more reflexive of my own personal opinions,” Righter said. “So not just necessarily listening to others critique each other, but also being responsive to what your own biases are coming into this before you listen, and reflecting on where your own opinions may come from.”
Multiple students said they felt the discussions gave them an appreciation for other political views. Education junior Hannah Ploof said she valued the ability to talk to people whose beliefs didn’t align with her own.
Still, politics aside, testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recounting her alleged past assault at the hands of the justice seemed to sway voters acros the country on the Senate’s confirmation vote. A CNN poll conducted last week found 51 percent of Americans oppose Kavanaugh being voted ont the bench. A different tone also pervaded at Thursday’s march for survivors where EMU sophomore Lindsey Brown said the confirmation was not divide of right versus left but an issue morality. “I think when we look back we are going to see a clear divide of who was on the right side of history and who was on the side of history that didn't want to listen to survivors and the people who have been systematically oppressed,” Brown said.
“Before this session, any conversation I had had about Kavanaugh was basically just an echo chamber of my own thoughts, and so whenever I’d be speaking about it, it always just got me more amped up,” Ploof said. “But after this, I have more opinions and I’m not as stressed about the situation, I’m more just calm and thinking about it. So I think that talking about things in less of a high-stress situation and more about our thoughts should be applied to when I talk about politics in general so I can consistently not get angry about things.”