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Chicago Teens Unpack the 2020 Presidential Election

Students from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago react to the 2020 Presidential Election.

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On Tuesday, November 10th, Whitney M. Young Magnet High School’s senior class participated in a town hall, which was centered on the 2020 presidential election. Attending alongside the students were counselors, teachers and members of the administration, acting as mediators for the event.

Throughout the town hall, the faculty sifted through a series of slides with various prompts to guide the conversation.

Before beginning the discussion, a set of norms were presented. Students were instructed to place an asterisk in the chat in order to indicate that they wished to speak, as well as to frame their statements in reference to themselves, rather than targeting their speech towards a specific individual or group. Some of the norms were reflective of the current remote learning environment, which makes it harder to follow the social cues, while others were to ensure that everyone felt comfortable sharing their thoughts with their peers.

As the question “What is political polarization?” was posed to kickstart the event, many students opted to use the chat to respond, rather than speaking directly to everyone in attendance. “Sides being pulled farther and farther apart” and the “inability for parties to communicate or come to a compromise,” were among some of the responses students typed in the chat. One student drew inspiration from the current pandemic, listing the debate over whether or not people should be required to wear masks as a particularly polarizing issue.

The event began to bear more of a resemblance to in-person dialogue as multiple students opted to take the virtual floor in order to respond to the question: “How can you be aware of when your ideas become extremely polarized?” One senior, Lamya Powell, stated, “I realize my ideas have become polarized when someone asks me ‘why do I believe that?’ and I can’t give a straightforward answer. Afterwise, I realize it’s just how I’ve been raised or what’s been [important] to me in my lifetime,” discussing the role that experience plays in shaping our political beliefs.

Another senior, Jalen Aguilar, discussed the tendency people have in assuming things about a certain group of people: “For me…I see it a lot with like Trump supporters…They just get a bunch of hate because of it, and sure you can have your opinions on who to support, just as I have my own. I’m not a Trump supporter but I’m saying when people see a Trump supporter, they think, ‘oh, that person is racist,’ like automatically when they have their own right to follow…who they think may be right,” he explained.

Other topics discussed included the differences between beliefs and intolerant views, how to define democracy and how to measure democracy in our society. Students also discussed nation-wide issues such as voter suppression and emphasized the importance of voting and remaining engaged in community issues. Volunteering at polling places, participating in local elections, helping to register other community members to vote and educating ourselves were all mentioned as ways we can combat these issues and better our democracy. Many students vowed — via chat — that they would strive to become active members of their community.

Overall, this town hall reflected the importance of creating a space for students to have a conversation and unpack all that is taking place in our nation.