UPenn and Cairn Foster Civil Political Dialogue Among Students

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.”

Former President Barack Obama issued this advice during the final speech of his presidency on January 9, 2017. Employees and students of Cairn University and the University of Pennsylvania took it to heart.

Ricki White "listens to understand" during Trump forum
Ricki White ’17 practices “listening to understand” while discussing the 2016 elections with Penn GSE students.

On February 7 and 21, students of both schools gathered at events hosted first in Cairn’s Manor Hall and then by Penn’s Graduate School of Education. For two hours, facilitators guided the students’ discussion, providing space for students to explore both shared values and the reasoning behind political differences. Cairn undergraduate and Penn graduate students served on panels modeling guidelines for keeping political discourse civil. One of the most impactful (and challenging) guidelines was “listening to understand” before “listening to respond,” said students from both schools.

Penn students in attendance, most of whom reported voting for Clinton, were surprised at the diversity of political opinion at Cairn. Although Cairn students mostly identified as conservatives, only half in attendance had voted for the Republican candidate. Others reported voting for Clinton, independent Evan McMullin, or declined to share their choice.

To read more about the event, visit cairn.edu/news/TrumpForum.