LC Takes On the 2020 Election

Jenny Pan, Graphics Manager

Politicians, historians, and news outlets around the country have expressed how important the 2020 election is. Compared to the shock and highly contentious climate following the 2016 election, how has Loomis Chaffee prepared for November 3rd?
Many teachers may remember the divisive climate on campus following the election. On November 4, 2016, two counter-marches led by Loomis students occurred: a silent march led by PRISM and an impromptu march in response from Trump supporters.
While the school’s values and goals around politics have not changed, the approach and preparation for the election have. Now, Loomis ensures that students are more informed on views across the political spectrum in hopes that this will foster political discourse that is both civil and strong.
“If I were to point to one major difference that I think has occurred from 2016 to 2020, it would be people’s awareness of opposing viewpoints and political possibilities,” Shultz Fellows President and Student Council President Aidan Gillies ’21 said. “[T]he vast majority of people were unaware of how to deal with a Trump presidency and the new sensational political formatting, but I think now people acknowledge just how much smoke politicians are putting up and that helps people on both sides cut through the almost celebrity-like drama of politics and get to the real issues.”
Changes in the school’s handling of the election have also been helpful during this contentious time.
“I think we have seen huge changes in the way that the school is approaching this election,” Aidan said. “As we can see with the current line-up of convocation speakers and overall TAG programming, the school is trying to take a much more active role in shaping discussion and discourse on campus.”
On campus, the 2020 election is being handled very differently from 2016 due the school’s implementation of the following policies: a Freedom of Expression policy in the student handbook, three convocations and two Thursday Advisory Group meetings dedicated to the election, the Grand Parliamentary debate on democracy, presidential debate watch parties, and the Shultz Fellows.
“The Shultz Fellows were created in large part because of the 2016 election and a need to encourage non-partisan discourse and [the] exchange of ideas,” Aidan Gillies said.
Mr. Eric LaForest, director of the Norton Center for the Common Good and a history teacher, also pointed out the “extreme positive impact” the Shultz Fellows have on the school’s political culture.
“To have student leaders like [the Fellows] in a position to guide conversations and demonstrate that nonpartisan political discourse is possible and beneficial has been tremendous,” Mr. LaForest said. “I would say that a major difference has been the presence of the Shultz Fellows.”
All this preparation is in an effort to help improve the post-election climate and minimize any potential shock. Additionally, the school hopes to have created an environment where students feel comfortable grieving or celebrating in a respectful and effective manner.
“I think it’s been made pretty clear that the administration does not want to be caught off guard and does not want our student body nearly as divided as it was four years ago and I think by allowing people to put their thoughts out there before a major event it allows our community to work through issues and disagreements without heightened emotions,” Aidan said.
What stayed the same are the school’s values and goals when dealing with politics. Their purpose of educating students to build better political discourse has always been the intention.
“Our school’s mission and history call on us to teach engaged citizenship and democratic values, even as we are aware of the many potential challenges in doing so,” Mr. LaForest said. “For me, as the director of a center built to inspire in students a commitment to serving the common good, I think it is essential that students learn about power, influence, and what might stand in the way of doing good
Following the 2016 election outcome, active political discourse became widely encouraged among students.
“Civility is not the primary goal of our efforts this fall,” Mr. LaForest said, “We hope that Loomis Chaffee students can become more informed about politics so that they can participate in political conversations and actions more effectively, confidently, and responsibly. Civility is an aspect of that engagement, but it is not the guiding virtue.”
Although maintaining civility may be difficult during times of uncertainty and stress, what can you do?
“There are practices everyone can keep in mind during any political discussion to make sure things don’t get out of hand, Aidan said. “During Shultz we make sure that people can vocalize when comments…are seen as hurtful and we make sure that individuals never generalize and always stay present in the discussion. And though this does not solve the issue of polarization, I think as long as we can maintain a culture on campus of respect, even with disagreement, we can succeed in this area.”
Student political groups like the Young Democrats and Young Republicans have also always been important in providing a safe environment for students to connect with like-minded peers and to understand opposing viewpoints.
“I think Loomis does a good job with allowing political activism on campus for both sides of the political spectrum,” Anna Li ’21, a leader of Young Democrats said, “Both the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans have well educated club advisors with previous political experience….When it comes to activism, Loomis does a very good job supporting and encouraging students to participate in social movements such as the National School Walkout in 2018 to protest against gun violence after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and last year driving students to the protest in Hartford for climate change.”
While Republicans in a long-time liberal state like Connecticut face challenges with expressing their political identities, LC Young Republicans have tried to combat these issues.
“When the discussion started to focus on how campus politics, and specifically the handling of the election and other issues right now have become a potential issue for the unfair treatment for students or faculty members with views like our own, we tried coming up with ways for all students’ opinions to be welcome,” Julia Manafort ’21, one of the Leaders of LC Young Republicans, said.
Events co-hosted by LC Young Republicans, Young Democrats, the Shultz Fellows, and the Norton Center have “ensure[d] that all voices are being heard,” she said.