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In today’s contentious political climate, it can be difficult to find common ground with others of opposing viewpoints. To combat this, political science professor Arthur Lupia, created the class “Beyond Partisanship.”
“Beyond Partisanship” intends to find common ground on important issues like the opioid crisis, homelessness and housing security, among others. It addition, it hopes to push students to find tangible solutions to these problems.
When approached to create this undergraduate course, Lupia sought to encourage students to facilitate discussion with those of differing ideologies.
“The aim is to find issues on which 70 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats agree,” Lupia said. “We want to identify those problems, as well as real solutions, in both the private and public sectors, and bring them to the table.”
Currently, the University of Michigan does not offer any courses like it. According to Lupia, University administrators approached him about constructing a course showing the University’s ability to accommodate viewpoints from across the political spectrum.
“The question is what can we do to improve quality of life for our families, our communities, our cities, our towns, our state and our nation,” Lupia said. “So that’s the real challenge; what is the approach we can take to reach out to people who aren’t like us to work with them and improve quality of life in real ways?”
As part of the course, Lupia invited several guest speakers to talk to students and answer their questions. Each speaker specializes in a certain area of policy. One such speaker, Beth Myers, is an American political consultant and former chief of staff of Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Myers visited the class on Oct. 25 and discussed her experiences in politics and issues surrounding homelessness and housing security.
Myers mentioned the fluctuating nature of politics and how she believes a large part of working in politics is listening to others.
“You had to put all viewpoints on the table,” Myers said. “I found that my job as chief of staff for Mitt Romney was to make sure all voices were heard.”
Another guest speaker, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., visited the class and discussed the current opioid crisis. In a statement, Dingell said she enjoyed conversing with students who are encouraged to look at all sides to an issue.
“We are living in times where we focus more on what divides us than unites us,” Dingell wrote. “Coming together in settings like this – where we can debate, challenge each other and learn from one another – is critical to moving our country forward and improving our communities.”
Students in the class are tasked with finding real-world solutions to problems facing our world today. Michigan’s rate of opioid deaths placed the state at 15th in the country, with 20.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
There are approximately 66,483 reported homeless residents in Michigan as of 2016, with 53 percent of this population being African Americans. Issues like homelessness and the opioid crisis have recently gained bipartisan support to try on the state and national level.
“We’ve talked about having a whole set of opportunities for students to engage in public service, to be of a value to their respective communities, but in ways where they can work together beyond partisanship,” Lupia said. “This course, and this set of things we’re talking about, offers another way to be of service.”
LSA senior Ellen Toal, a member of the class, highlighted the importance the class had in forcing her to listen to others instead of talking over them.
“You can’t get anything done with only one half, one group of people, or one political party doing the work,” Toal said. “The idea of going across the aisle and making sure you’re getting opinions and agreements between both parties and different groups is probably the most important thing.”