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Al Montero holds forum on political beliefs

<litical Science Professor Al Montero held a forum on students’ political beliefs on Monday evening in the Weitz. Montero was motivated to create the forum in order to address “a lack of open political dialogue among students on this campus, which had reached a pretty bad nadir,” he said.

“In the wake of a very polarizing election, it was time to have a forum like this to have students not debate the politics or express partisanship, but to talk about their own political orientations, to do some self-reflection in public and to generate a debate about political values,” Montero said.

Around 27 students joined Montero for candid reflection on their worldviews. Montero began the event by asking the attendees to share their thoughts on the role of government. Responses focused on topics like justice, the common good, the ability to do business and helping people reach their potential.

Students discussed how their personal values and upbringings inform their politics, often citing family and religion as guiding influences. Montero encouraged the attendees to consider how their beliefs have changed over time, emphasizing college as a time for self-discovery.

“I thought it was a nice discussion of people’s different viewpoints and how we can try and change the campus culture to be more inclusive to different viewpoints,” Adam Kral ’20 said.

During his introductory remarks, Montero handed out copies of the college’s statement on diversity, which says that “a community that fosters diversity of thought and an open exchange of ideas can only emerge from the participation of individuals with different backgrounds and worldviews.” Montero referenced the statement to remind students that at Carleton, “everybody has a place at the table.”

“I was surprised by two things,” William Kay ’18 said. “Namely, how much I agreed on fundamental values with students that had a different political orientation, and secondly, just the fact that religion was mentioned so much, and that people’s upbringings and cultural upbringings were mentioned a lot, also struck me as interesting.”

Montero was more intrigued than surprised that religion came up in discussion. He added that religion is “much more extensive and much more influential in the intellectual development of our students than even many of us in the faculty would care to admit.”

The discussion progressed from political beliefs and religion to concerns about the state of political discourse, both on campus and throughout the country.

“I think there are a lot of people that weren’t here, and I think that’s a problem, but that’s something we’ll all work on,” Shayna Gleason ’17 said after the forum.
Similarly during the forum, Miko Zeldes-Roth ’18 identified that the room was “overwhelmingly white and male” and suggested that the discussion would likely be different if more women and people of color were in the room.

Nick Cohen ’18 called on the Carleton community to engage with Northfield residents–particularly those without college degrees–in order to understand people whose life experiences are different than those of Carleton students. “No one in the room will be a factory worker,” he said during the forum.

When asked if professors ever shut students down, the general response was “no.” In fact, many seemed to think that Carleton faculty present and engage with many different views.

In order to keep the discussion alive on campus, Montero hopes for “events created by students for students, much like this, perhaps more focused on particular policy questions.” He speculates that half the student body does not regularly follow political news and thinks that events like the one on Monday can help spark an interest for further inquiry.

Above all, Montero would like to see students exchanging ideas in person, rather than presenting strong opinions in other platforms because these can close off further discussion.

“If an individual or group of people simply don’t want to participate in debate and discussion, if they believe they have the answers and if they’re just simply going to act on those answers, then that’s not critical thought. That’s not debate,” Montero said. “That’s fanaticism, creed, fervor. That’s the opposite of what we do here. So if there are students or others who don’t get that, I’m sorry for them. I mean that’s not what we are. We need to be the college we are.”

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