Fourteen students led five small groups in political conversations at Goshen College on the day preceding and the day following the presidential election.
These discussions were based on the Colossian Way, a method of dialogue designed to help Christians “lead through conflict” and explore difficult subjects. Students, faculty and staff gathered to process the uncertainty surrounding this week’s presidential election.
Each student discussion group was facilitated by students who participated in the peace, justice and conflict studies political talk class over the course of this semester.
Suzanne Ehst and Joe Liechty taught the Monday night class, which met once a week and focused on learning about the Colossian Way and practicing its application in group situations.
The end goal of the class was for students to be equipped to lead discussions surrounding the 2020 election.
In total, 48 students signed up to be participants in the event. In each of the five small groups, 10 students participated along with two to four facilitators from the PJCS class. At 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 2 and Wednesday, Nov. 4, three of the groups met in a campus space and two met on Zoom, to better accommodate quarantined students.
On Monday, a group that met in the sanctuary was led by Claire Rauck, a senior, and Simon Hertzler Gascho, a first-year.
Rauck said the sanctuary small group began their discussion on Monday by “building bridges with one another” to create a more comfortable space for the participants to share.
Once they were acclimated, everyone in the group spoke a bit about their political beliefs and their upbringing that shaped those beliefs, as well as why they signed up for the session and why this election was important to them.
Samuel Stoner-Eby, a sophomore, mentioned some of the recurring themes in the important political issues were climate change, racial injustice and the handling of the pandemic.
He also pointed out that the political leanings of the sanctuary group were quite homogenous, with the majority of the participants being liberal Mennonites.
“The conversation was missing conservative voices, and [I was] curious to see how the discussion would have gone if such voices were present,” he said.
Caleb Gingerich, a sophomore, was in a different small group, but observed that the discussion, while stimulating, was a bit of an “echo chamber,” with little diversity of opinion.
Despite the lack of diversity of opinion in some groups, Rauck was pleasantly surprised by the level of participation from the group and everyone’s willingness to share their beliefs.
Throughout the conversation, the facilitators and participants made sure to ask what they called “questions of curiosity.” This type of dialogue was a focus of the class.
The questions are meant to promote active listening and demonstrate that the listeners have a genuine interest in the content.
For Stoner-Eby, the conversation was different from others he had been a part of because “it focused on listening to others and understanding,” rather than “debating the issues,” he said.
Another important aspect of the class that Rauck and Hertzler Gascho brought to their discussion was their practice of ending the session by sharing hopes, praises and laments “to gauge how people were feeling about the election and how they thought the discussion went.”
As of Wednesday morning, the results of the election were very much up in the air. This led to a feeling of discouragement and uncertainty in the sanctuary group’s Wednesday discussion.
Stoner-Eby said that he thought the subdued nature was caused by “the uncertainty of there still being no official winner” and the surprise at “how close the election was and how well Trump did,” he said.
The group then ended their dialogue by sharing their hopes, fears and laments of moving forward from the election.