Stevens: Bridging the divide

The internal division of Oregon is best exemplified by the competing Coexist and OreGUNian bumper stickers that can frequently be seen on the backs of cars.

Growing up in Portland has exposed me to this political division that is so fundamental to the identity of Oregon. The deeply racist foundation, starting with black exclusion laws that forbade African Americans from settling in Oregon, upon which our state is built, is at constant odds with the current progressive political climate. 

This division is lined with resentment from both sides, but the only way to move forward is through understanding. 

The 2016 election was an eye-opening moment for myself and many of my peers. Seeing most of the country go red was shocking enough, but to see a majority of Oregon go blue too was unexpected. How can we be living in such a bubble? During my upbringing, I almost never encountered conservative people, let alone extreme ones, but when you drive through Eastern Oregon, Confederate flags are not a rare sight. 

For me, there is an immediate reaction of anger when I see blatant displays of hatred in my state, but we are not going to change minds by ostracizing people with different opinions. Instead we should seek to understand why they think the way they do so we can know how to change minds. 

This process does not start with strangers out in eastern Oregon, but with the people directly in our lives and community. Even just talking with my slightly right-leaning friends reveals that the conservative population at UO certainly feels the alienation.

If my friends feel the slight hostility, I can only imagine the resentment rural residents of Eastern Oregon feel. The association of higher education with liberal values has serious consequences for conservative people and diversity of thought on college campuses. That is what we see here: a significant difference in respect given to conservative people compared to liberal people. 

The University of Oregon would be a great place for discourse on this subject to happen. We live on the edge of the perfect collision of worlds, but instead of using the hatred in our backyard to discuss and explore problems being faced across the country, we call them names and insult them, maybe out of fear that deep down we are the same.

I am calling for all students who can take a step back from politics. Not in an apathetic way, but rather to remove the person from the policy, if only long enough to see our fellow conservative students as actual peers and have conversations. 

There are a number of reasons why stepping back from politics is not possible for some students, though. I recognize that as a white man, it is easy for me to suggest people put their politics on hold for the sake of having a discussion. But for people of color and other identities that get targeted by conservative viewpoints, there is no stepping back. 

So the burden falls heavily on the conservative people whose perspectives infringe on the rights and opportunities of minorities to recognize the discrimination and make an effort to bridge the divide themselves. 

Without cooperation from both sides, nothing will happen. Maybe this seems obvious, and I am sure it already happens on a small scale, but we need to step up as an entire school to make change happen. We need an official forum for this kind of discourse where people can feel comfortable asking real questions and voicing their perspective, no matter who they are and what they believe.