College is often the time in people’s lives when their political views start to form, if not solidify. As I’m sure you all saw this year at Festifall, the University is filled with a wide variety of clubs geared toward increasing political participation and activism. Many of them, however, reflect what seems to be the dominant ideology here in Ann Arbor: liberalism. But if you are a conservative, a centrist or somewhere in between, fear not because there is a place for you. You just need to know where to look.
As you begin looking for your political niche on campus, you should exercise a bit of caution in your search. Many political organizations on campus are rigidly oriented toward a particular side of an issue or a certain ideology. I know how tempting it is to surround yourself with individuals just like you, but to only hang around people who think like you do would be a terrible disservice to your University experience. Doing so will amount to nothing more than joining partisan pep rallies that punish dissenters and celebrate uniformity.
Your experience here should not be an extension of your high school years. If, like me, you come from an upper-middle-class town where diversity of thought and political ideology is left something to be desired, then it’s time for you to experience something new. Many students fail to realize that living in such a town doesn’t expose you to experience that could potentially shed new light on certain issues. But college is all about getting outside of your comfort zone, experiencing new things and learning from a student body whose diverse set of ideas and experiences are supposed to enrich your education. It’s all right if you disagree with people around you. That’s to be expected. But if you never at least listen to the other side, you’ll never be fully informed on the issues of the day. Don’t take lessons from Washington D.C. It’s OK if some tenets of the other party don’t appeal to you. You will never be judged here for hearing out the other side. And if, God forbid, you begin to agree with views that once seemed so contrary to your own, that’s OK too. Don’t be afraid to change your views. Nobody here will burn you in effigy or call you a flip-flopper. I promise.
Now let me be clear: I’m not saying you should feel the need to conform to those around you. No matter how odd or out of the mainstream your views may be, you can definitely find a place on campus where your ideas will be welcomed and embraced. And as a member of the Michigan Political Union, I can unequivocally say that MPU is one such place. This nonpartisan forum for debate has defined my political experiences in college. Between the three parties in the Union, I can guarantee your political views will be represented adequately. At MPU, we aren’t afraid to debate the hot topics such as illegal immigration and affirmative action. And if you’re dying to hear what your professors and other experts have to say about a particular issue, MPU often invites them to add their own insights as well. We not only welcome dissent, we encourage and expect it.
Maybe if we had more opportunities to have an open and civil discourse on the problems we face as a nation, we could face those challenges without the bickering and character attacks that have become all too common in American politics. We could finally have that adult conversation that so many in Washington have been yearning for.
As a leader of the Independent Party, I invite you to check out the Michigan Political Union as we would be happy to have you join us. You can check us out online at www.michiganpoliticalunion.com. And even if MPU isn’t the right club for you, I hope you’ll continue to seek out places on campus where you can share your views but also listen to others as well.
Matthew Skiba is an LSA sophomore.