This past Thursday night, students and community members packed into Smith Union to have a conversation about a topic becoming more salient as we approach the November midterm elections—division in American political life.
The event, a collaboration between The McKeen Center’s What Matters series and Make Shift Coffee House, a Brunswick nonprofit that facilitates dialogue among people with different views, demonstrated the ability for the campus to consider new perspectives and for students to challenge their ideas, and those of others, among friends and unfamiliar faces.
The talk marks the third collaboration between What Matters and Make Shift Coffee House, whose founder Craig Freshley said a college campus like Bowdoin’s is an ideal space for the kinds of “civil conversations” he advocates.
While he recognizes that generally speaking colleges have an ideological bent, a college first and foremost is a place of higher education. “A college is a neutral space, a democratic space. They are not Republican or Democratic by statute,” said Freshley. “It is a place of learning, and I can bet your professors want you to learn both sides.”
Freshley’s image of a college was actualized as thoughts and questions were freely expressed during the event. A range of beliefs were shared: at one point Francisco Navarro ’19 of the Bowdoin Republicans explained his support for President Trump. A half an hour later, another student asked how anyone could vote for the President due to his stance (or lack thereof) on key moral issues.
As ideas were exchanged back and forth, Freshley showed his skill for conflict resolution—a skill he’s honed in recent years.
“In 2016, I realized how blatantly divided this country is and when I saw and really realized how much disagreement our country is in, that was a wake-up call for me,” Freshley said.
In the past two years, Freshley has organized twenty-six Make-Shift Coffee House events, giving people, and most importantly college students, the chance to better gauge the diversity of Americans’ political thought.
“I was surprised by how open people were to people’s ideas and those who had opposing viewpoints,” said first-year student Max Freeman ’22 after Thursday’s conversation. “I came into the event thinking it would be mostly liberals spouting liberal viewpoints.”
Photos by Dennis Griggs