With in-person interactions limited due to COVID-19, face-to-face political discussions with peers may be limited. But being online shouldn’t stop us from having these conversations, and for many, it hasn’t. Especially with the upcoming election, it is important to engage in discussions with those who hold different viewpoints on political issues.
The Acorn Collective, a group of Glenbrook students and alumni, presented two petitions that opened conversations between students, both of which called for action by Glenbrook High School District #225: one to remove the position of Student Resource Officer, also known as SRO, and the other to promote racial inclusivity in school, specifically in curriculums and hiring practices. The group posted about the petitions on its Instagram account, as well as highlighted experiences of students who experienced racism in the community. In response, many comments were made on the group’s posts, including hundreds on the post about the petition to remove SROs.
Although many commenters fostered respectful discussions about the petitions, many others were racist, homophobic and transphobic. As a result, the Acorn Collective turned off the ability for others to comment on multiple posts.
Online discussions are unique in that they allow participants to share links to articles, take more time between responses to think about what the other person has said and word arguments carefully.
However, online discussions often come with the impression of diminished accountability. When being racist, homophobic or sexist in online conversations, neither participant needs to look the other in the eyes. On the Acorn Collective’s posts, some people even made fake accounts to make harmful remarks. Hiding behind a screen often emboldens people to make statements that have serious ramifications, including causing mental harm to those who are targeted.
Racism, sexism and homophobia have no place in our community. BIPOC rights, LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights are human rights. Questions about their validity have no place in any of our discussions, whether the discussions are political or not.
Taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet as a way to circumvent the consequences of making these comments reduces others’ willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints, creating a polarized, hostile environment. Productive political conversations, with the goal of understanding another’s views on certain issues or even on a candidate, cannot happen if the conversations are mixed with intolerant comments.
Students should take part in discussions about relevant issues, such as those the Acorn Collective raises, whether in agreement or disagreement. And students shouldn’t avoid discussing the social justice issues that occur in our community and across the nation. But they must express their opinions in ways that are respectful of others’ experiences. In any situation, when commenting on posts or discussing in person, there is no place for prejudice.