Ah, it’s that time of (four) year(s) again. Presidential elections!
Being on campus during an election is an experience everyone should live through––it teaches you many lessons about having respectful conversations, knowing when it’s your time to speak, and crafting how to most politely say, “Please shut the f*ck up.”
As a sophomore on campus during the 2016 election, I have a few tips and tricks to share about getting you through these next 12 months. So save this in your bookmarks, take notes in your bullet journal, or screenshot your favorite parts and send them to your dorm floor, tagging someone and saying, “Ha! That’s so YOU!”
1. Political Jokes are for Political Pals™
Don’t risk cracking a joke about President Trump’s perfectly coiffed hair or his inspiring treatment of women unless you’re positive the person you’re talking to won’t turn a light joke into an hour-and-a-half conversation about moral character. As someone who always goes for the laugh, believe me when I say it just isn’t worth it.
2. Spend a couple hours a week doing your own research
This is Ohio State. Everyone is going to try to out-know each other. As we get older, we get more comfortable saying things like, “I actually don’t know a lot about that. Can you tell me more?” Which is great! But then we get even older and choose to instead say things like, “What’s the point?” when asked if we did our homework.
Either way, know that doing your own research doesn’t openly invite you to join political conversations. They’re tough to have. Doing your own research rather helps you navigate throw-away comments that red-seeing, vibrating, passionate youths spew in class that you don’t know if you should believe because they’re just saying it so gosh darn loudly that it must be true, right? Take away the internal questions and know the truth for yourself.
3. Give yourself a break
We’d be remiss to say that people only come to college for that degree––the truth is that college is a cultural experience. Ohio State especially has a culture no one can deny. Don’t get lost in the sauce this season by tunneling through a Twitter spiral trying to find every little detail about a specific political situation that you can. Before you know it, it’s 2 a.m. and your roommates are stampeding through the front door with five bags of Cane’s in their arms. Make a firm decision to turn off the phone, go out, and have fun. You’re only here for four years.
4. Don’t make every space a political space
A quick walk out of class as you scamper away to the next one is not the best time to discuss foreign relations with an 8 a.m. acquaintance, at best. These conversations are tough, nuanced, and take a lot of energy out of you if politics directly affects your life. If you want to have a deeper conversation about it, attend an event whose sole purpose is promoting political dialogue, or invite the person to grab lunch where conversation can flow uninterrupted. (Anecdote: me and a floor neighbor my freshman year had many political conversations before the election, and they were all scheduled via text. Some people on our floor straight-up brought popcorn to watch us basically debate. This style isn’t for everyone, but it’s for you, I definitely recommend offering popcorn for the casualties passing by.)
5. Know how much you know, and help others get there
If you’re particularly well-versed in politics, the worst thing you can do is talk someone’s ear off who doesn’t give a sh*t about politics right now. Sprinkle your knowledge here and there, and soon you’ll find quieter friends knocking on your door in the middle of the night asking to chat, or you’ll be pulled out onto the balcony to answer questions over a bowl. Keep the focus of the conversation on the friends who are working out their political opinions for the first time. If you drop knowledge in their face over and over again, you’re just going to sound like their overbearing parents who also don’t give a sh*t if their kid develops their own personal voice.
6. Understand that politics are personal for some people
The biggest thing I learned after the 2016 election is that politics are incredibly personal for some people. Debate team enthusiasts and economy brainiacs sometimes fail to see how a political conversation turns from an innocent sharing-of-opinions to an all-out verbal assault. The truth is that sometimes, elections lead to hate crimes. Sometimes, elections to lead to booms in racism. These are things that directly affect people’s lives, they’re not talking points that are fun to banter about. Engaging in political conversation with people on both sides of the spectrum is great and needs to happen more often. However, it’s imperative that people know what the stakes are for both sides before getting into it. Maybe get to know the person a little first outside of politics to see what an election could mean for them personally, then engage in that conversation with––again––the desire to understand. People who want to engage in these conversations probably did their research. If all of us gave the other side more chances to share, maybe we could come out finding common ground.
It’s not a right that everyone in the world has, and if you think you don’t know enough to make an educated vote, just know that people around the country have even less access to the information you do, and they still vote. So don’t talk yourself out of it. Know that your voice matters, even if it’s not the loudest.