The Challenges of Post-Election, Virtual Forum
By: Luke Rapallo '24
The election is on everyone’s mind right now. Everyone in the country and beyond seems to have their own opinion about the situation. The school has noticed and has decided to provide a place for people to share their opinions about the election. In past years, a post-election forum was held on campus in the Black Box, however with COVID-19 continuing its rampage in the United States, with over nine million cases at time of writing, this year, the forum will have to be held virtually.
Something that is crucial to a quality discussion is making sure all the participants feel comfortable listening and sharing opinions in a public setting among their peers. When I talked to senior Ishan Kangotra about this he said that he would be the most comfortable “If the school just let’s everybody have a say.” However there is a precedent for forums being held digitally. Recently there was a forum to discuss the changes to Wednesday in the Zoomflex schedule. Senior Adriene Lai said “I think a format similar to the Wednesday schedule forum between the students and administration would make me most comfortable: student led but with faculty members present.”
Another concern many people have is that the forum may not be entirely impartial, leaning toward either side. It is obviously not optimal for a forum of discussion to be favored toward one group of people. Senior Adrienne Lai gave her opinion on the difficulties of being impartial and some recommendations. “I think that it is hard to be impartial with politics because everyone has their own beliefs. I think that the school can make the forum closer to impartial by having all opinions represented, being respectful of everyone’s ideas, and leading the discussion with questions and topics that do not have any bias in them if that makes sense - no leading questions or questions that hint one opinion is incorrect.” The school has taken steps to counteract this, including going over the community norms at the start of the forum. An example of one of these norms is assuming the person you are having a conversation with has only the best motives.
Coronavirus is obviously affecting not just our discussion of the election, but the election itself. With the airborne nature of the virus, many many people have already voted days or weeks before election day. “Those numbers are tremendously larger than anything we have ever seen...That number may affect when we are able to count all of the votes.” said Mr. Garikes. So this begs the question of what the election landscape will look like come election forum time. Even in normal election years, the government does not officially release results until weeks after election day, however many media outlets do call the winner the day of the election, so with votes being counted slower than ever, the media has a lot of control over what happens in the upcoming weeks. These facts may cause some controversy at the forum, as the election may not be a done deal by this Friday.
There are even further challenges that come with having the forum being entirely digital this year. In past years this election forum was fairly straightforward, but coronavirus rarely allows things to be simple. The school has expressed a sentiment that planning the forum over Zoom will provide challenges that in previous years were relatively simple. One example of these challenges is simply getting the word out about the forum. On that topic Mr. Mallet said “The lack of face to face makes it harder for kids to remember and to know what’s going on sometimes.” However Mr. Mallet is confident that the quality of discussion will be of the same par as previous years, “I’ve seen terrific conversations happen over Zoom. This summer we had several student forums and there was terrific discourse...The forums I’ve seen happen over the summer seem to be pretty good.”
The school has also recently started something called the DEIB program. DEIB stands for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and the program works on fostering dialogue skills among students, more specifically training students in being sensitive to others opinions during discussions. These DEIB sessions happen on Wednesday every week with each student’s advisory. The frequency of these sessions is more than likely to increase their productivity. Mr. Garikes said “I applaud the administration, to give everyone the chance to hear some thoughts,[and] to express some ideas” while responding to the school’s handling of the forum this year. While the school did not create the DEIB program specifically for the election forum, it could have an effect on the discussion.
Friday’s forum is more important than ever, with an election filled with uncertainty, students need a place to discuss the political turmoil happening in our country. Though everyone would prefer it if things were simpler, if we didn’t have to converse from afar, if we weren’t so divided, if things were like they used to be, but as Mr. Garikes put it “You do the best you can with what we’re all working with right now.”