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Burst the bubble

| Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The beginning of a new school year is exciting, exhausting and existential. Exciting and exhausting are plainly apparent and have been since the days of lording Crayola colored pencils over my unfortunate neighbor’s RoseArt ones on the first day of school. However, I have only recently discovered the existential aspect of back-to-school and its roots in the stark culture shift from home to Notre Dame.

We all experience this shift to some degree: each of us physically moves, we become surrounded by thousands of people our own age, and we once again recess from the “real world” to our small slice of collegiate utopia. But on a deeper level, the transition is even sharper. Fresh from a summer at home in the San Francisco Bay Area, now is a better time than ever to examine contrasting worlds and the potential they hold.

I was raised in a bubble. It was this bubble that inspired me to go elsewhere for college, to see what the rest of the country had to offer. As one may guess, Notre Dame (and the greater Midwest) has gone above and beyond in fulfilling my hopes. The range of lessons I have learned span from meteorological (thunder is loud, snow is cold), to nutritional (people can, in fact, live wonderfully happy lives without ever drinking $12 raw pressed kale-cayenne smoothies), to commercial (a company called Vineyard Vines makes pants in more colors than you could find in my aforementioned box of colored pencils). But the exposure I have genuinely enjoyed the most has been in matters of politics.

Before leaving my bubble, rarely did I encounter, let alone engage with, someone who held a vastly different set of ideological beliefs. Of course disagreement exists and of course I know Republicans at home (or know of them, at least), but the overarching political homogeneity of the Bay Area is undeniable.

Though Notre Dame’s population may find itself homogenous in a score of factors, politics is actually not one of them. In fact, compared to most other colleges, Notre Dame is substantially more ideologically diverse. The common stereotype would characterize the student body as conservative, and statistically, it probably is. I am sure that far more students align closer to the right, but the school’s left-leaning cohort is absolutely large enough to keep things interesting. Moreover, I have encountered many who identify as Independent. In theory, such a persuasion enhances discourse even further, for a moderate is less likely to be impeded by blind partisanship in debate.

As a student body, we take advantage of this opportune environment to an extent, but should do so even more. I have witnessed conversations related to numerous political matters between very differently minded individuals, and the results are truly exciting. Rather than dissipating into indignant storms of insults, people exchange intelligently formed ideas with respect. Friends are able to share thoughts they would perhaps never consider otherwise. Each side is humanized, and we discover that conservatives aren’t heartless, greedy zealots just as liberals aren’t socialist, godless spenders.

I encourage all members of the Notre Dame community to take part in such discussions. Whether or not you consider yourself “political,” keeping abreast of pertinent issues is something we should all practice. It is more than likely that you and a friend do not see quite eye to eye on Obamacare, the legalization of marijuana or Israel and Palestine; this is the time to improve your own position and learn the merits of opposing ones through conversations.

Amidst all the excitement and exhaustion of this semester’s beginnings, examine the bubble from which you came. While it may not be filled with plastic bag bans and Pride parades, there are surely opportunities for comparison, conversation and even contention ripe for the picking.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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