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Civil Discourse in Politics: A Lost Art

Republicans and Democrats debated on many issues during the 2012 election, one of the most important being women’s rights. After taking a class with a former congresswoman, Montoya and Stanley explain the importance of reaching across the aisle for women’s issues.

Rollins prides itself on extending learning beyond the four walls of a classroom. Through connections to global events, an emphasis on interdisciplinary coursework and the inclusion of voices from the community, students are encouraged to apply their knowledge to contemporary issues. When the analysis of current issues is central to the course, and a voice from the community is given a direct role as instructor, students are presented with a rare opportunity to deepen their understanding.

During the fall 2012 semester, Rollins offered Political Philosophy, Sex, Gender and the 2012 U.S. Elections. Co-taught by Associate Professor Ryan Musgrave and former congresswoman Pat Schroeder, this course represented just such a marriage of theory and practice.

The course drew on past struggles of the women’s liberation movement to further highlight the ongoing fight for equality. Rep. Schroeder was there for every class, offering a unique perspective to contextualize women’s issues, both locally and nationally, in this election.

Something we touched on often in the class was the lack of civil discourse present in society today. Rep. Schroeder shared her experiences working across party lines with other women in Congress to pass key pieces of legislation.

This was an invaluable experience; Rep. Schroeder brought immediacy to a struggle we tend to forget is ongoing.

The current election highlighted how a similar effort today is much harder to achieve. In the debates, we saw that hardline positions on controversial issues impeded greater political collaboration. In many ways, it felt like a false dichotomy where you were either for or against women’s rights. The nation was polarized and politicians were unable to bridge their differences — working with one side implied agreeing to the platform as a whole.

Through our classroom discussions on women’s rights, we took on the cooperative spirit that was so successful with Rep. Schroeder and the women of her generation. We all entered the class with different interests and backgrounds — science majors and philosophy majors, men and women, democrats and republicans. Studying the history of women’s liberation through the lens of contemporary issues, we began to understand what motivated this movement, as many of those same concerns exist today.

This was an invaluable experience; Rep. Schroeder brought immediacy to a struggle we tend to forget is ongoing. Rep. Schroeder exemplified the importance of civil discourse through the gains she made in congress, gains which still heavily impact us today. Often at the expense of public opinion, she took a critical stance on issues that were being overlooked in the country at that time. Rep. Schroeder was a woman’s voice talking about women’s issues, not because of her gender, but because the rest of Congress refused to see their value.

Women’s issues aren’t special interests. They affect the family, the economy and society. Given the buzz about women’s issues in the election, this practical mindset is something we could learn from. We represent a living history of the struggle for equality. We owe it to ourselves and to those who came before us to continue this legacy.

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