After last year’s election, it became incredibly clear that many of us are strangers to one another based upon our political leanings. Throughout the election cycle, many of us existed within our “echo chambers,” having little interaction with opinions different from our own. We at the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) realized we needed to begin creating intentional spaces that concentrated on unpacking our political differences the way we had with so many other identities. Sophia Mcgee, Director of CERRU, and myself chose to each attend one of the Queens College Young Republican meetings last spring to begin building relationships with conservative and republican students and start that process.
At the meeting I attended, there were many statements made about the types of people democrats and liberals are and the values or lack of values in relation to Republicans. I soon realized that almost every statement being made, was a statement I had heard in liberal spaces—the only difference being to whom they were directed.
I soon stood up to identify myself as an outsider in the space for two reasons. First, for most of the group, I was an unknown face and I didn’t want to be dishonest about my position. I felt it important to be clear that I was there to hear different opinions and was not a part of the community. Secondly, however, I wanted to point out that the same accusations or assumptions were being made by people across the political spectrum towards their “opposing” groups. I found it telling of our isolated worlds that we have the same fears and criticisms but we speak so infrequently that we don’t recognize the overlap.
Pierry Benjamin, a New York Republican Party Organizer, stood up soon after me and thanked me for sharing and pointing out what I had seen. I immediately realized that he could become part of a team for building bridges. After the event, a student also came up to me to share his interest in hearing opinions different from his own and participating in cross-political spaces. These two interactions cemented that CERRU would be developing a new program to address the need.
Fast forward to now and CERRU is partnering with Pierry Benjamin and Joel Acevedo, to pilot a program introducing individuals from across political lines to one another to break down stereotypes and encourage trans-political collaboration. The experiential project will involve a cohort working together during the spring semester on Thursday afternoon/evenings. Sessions will include engaging in difficult conversations, media literacy, social identity, party history, political leveraging, forms of civic engagement, and tools for organizing and campaigning.
A little about our team:
Joel Acevedo is the New York City Chairman of the New York Federation of College Republicans and former President of the John Jay College Republicans. He has extensive experience on political campaigns. Notable campaigns are: Anthony Weiner for Mayor, Melissa Jane Kronfeld for City Council, and John Quaglione for City Council.
Pierry Benjamin is currently the Director of Grassroots Outreach for the New York State Republican Party which he uses as a platform toward local political and community initiatives. As the New York State Director of the Republican Leadership Initiative Program in 2016, Pierry successfully deployed volunteers to critical swing states.
Sophia McGee is a founding member, and the current director, of the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding at QC. She is interested in intergroup contact theory and innovation across difference, and her TEDx talk is entitled “Learning to Take the Leap of Faith,” from which we derived the project’s title.
I, Yael Rosenstock have been involved with various social justice issues, including LGBTQA+ rights, reproductive justice, and sex worker labor rights since age 15. Since Fall 2016 I’ve been teaching a course with College Now using participatory action research for social justice and am excited to expand into the political realm.
Engaging with this project will require a sincere desire to understand different perspectives and work towards positive change with those with whom you often disagree. It will be an amazing opportunity and a serious journey. We are excited to meet our brave cohort of students willing to take the leap!
To apply, you can look us up on Facebook at the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) where the application is posted. You can also message us there or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Application due 11/30/2017