Friends Academy has a variety of clubs ranging from Academic Team to Sports Debate, but there are a few that are more controversial than the rest: the political clubs. These clubs are platforms for healthy discussion about political issues, but they are inherently divisive by their very nature as representations of the political party system in America.
To fully understand the goals of these clubs, I contacted the student leaders of these clubs. Co-founder of the Republican Club, Grant Elgarten recounted a brief anecdote about the founding of his organization. Grant described an encounter with a student who told him that she is conservative but hesitant to share her views for fear of judgement from her peers and teachers. While this provided Grant, Rob Parker, and Giles Rutson with inspiration for starting the club, they also felt that “the FA community was becoming increasingly liberal from both the students and teachers perspectives. We felt that school events such as assemblies were only showing one side to the story and not educating the community about the other.” Elgarten continued by pointing out that “this is not a healthy setting especially at a liberal arts Quaker school.” In response to the same question, Claire Handa, founder of the Democrat Club, provided a more succinct answer. She wanted to create a space where Democrats within Friends Academy could meet and share their ideas and views. She also wanted to “talk politics with the other political clubs in a respectful, intelligent way.”, in addition to creating a fun, social environment.
The efforts of these clubs have resulted in an increase in political discourse among students and even in classes. I have found myself and my peers more engaged in important discussions regarding the state of the union and the current presidential election. But while these clubs have noble aims and productive results, they have also produced some less-than-noble events. Let us remember the infamous Democrat vs. Republican scuffle that occurred a few months ago, in which things got particularly heated when members of the Democrat club infiltrated a Republican club meeting. I am in strong agreement with Cammy Wang, co-founder of the Independent Club, who referred to the current situation within Friends Academy as “a sudden polarization of the student body”. Cammy started the Independent club as an alternative for those looking to have “an interesting, educated, and civilized discussion about politics” without a commitment to a specific political party.
While these clubs are generating lots of healthy political discussion within our community, it is important to recognize that political affiliations should not define a person. Party politics tend to categorize people to the point where they become limited by the views of their supposed “party.” I believe that it is very important for these clubs to maintain the positive discourse that they have created and not devolve into the narrow-minded and polarizing conversations happening in the media today. The contentious discourse in our own community is a reflection of the larger conversation happening around the country. However, today’s political climate has led people to create echo chambers listening to those who only agree with them. It is a truly unique experience to have so many young people taking the initiative to share their views and learn from each other and I am optimistic for the future.