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This guide was prepared by Dr. Carah Ong Whaley, associate director of the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement, to support faculty, staff, Resident Advisors, and students to engage in constructive conversations around the 2020 Elections, regardless of the outcomes. We welcome suggestions of additional ideas and resources at civic@jmu.edu.

Important Points
  • This has been a divisive election, but we can work together to address pressing public problems and to cultivate a more just and inclusive democracy.
  • JMU believes in the safe and peaceful transition of power (if one is required by the election outcome) as central to democratic societies.
  • Diversity is an asset that makes us stronger and more creative when we are inclusive and ensure that everyone has equitable access, voice and participation in discussions and decision making.
  • No one’s existence should ever be questioned. We believe in the dignity of every human being and believe that everyone should thrive.
  • Politicians don’t always live up to democratic ideals.
  • We may not know the election results on November 3rd. Election administration is facilitated by localities, local election boards, and state departments of elections. There may be challenges to the results. Be patient, but persistent and willing to question.
Create agreed upon ground rules but provide open space for facilitated discussion.

Encourage collaboration over competition. Student reasoning improves when alternative viewpoints can be considered and engaged, and deliberation can help overcome polarization and reduce extremism.

Ground rules might include:
  • Everyone’s viewpoint counts equally.
  • Share “air time.” Especially online (e.g., on Zoom), there are lots of ways to contribute/participate that don't involve speaking, like in the chat box, an anonymous poll, etc.
  • One person shares at a time.
  • If you are hurt or harmed, say so and say why.
  • Individuals can disagree, but don’t personalize it; critique the ideas, reasoning, and evidence, not the person
  • There are diverse perspectives in this conversation and we can talk respectfully even if we don’t all agree.
  • Hate speech will not be tolerated.
  • This is not about changing minds. It’s about listening and developing empathy and understanding.
  • Avoid judgement and focus on listening with curiosity and for understanding.
  • Confidentiality: what happens in the discussion, stays in the discussion.
  • Consider adopting a “brave space” that allows people to take risks and speak candidly, but allows people to respond when it hurts their feelings and share why.
Political IdentiTree

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Click here for a presentation using a Political IdentiTree to facilitate conversations about how social identity impacts political identities and behavior.

Discuss why you are having the conversation.

Elections can raise many emotions and not everyone will be satisfied with the outcomes. We can still work together on the many issues facing our community, nation, and world, even if our candidate or political party is not in power. Voting in elections is one of many ways people can participate in and influence decision-making.

JMU Civic has resources for other ways to get involved, including: public commenting on issues you care about to local boards and commissions; contacting elected and public officials about the issues you care about; or volunteering to fill the need of a local organization or community. Follow @JMUDukesVote on Insta for weekly ideas and resources.

Ask students to reflect on their own identities, prejudices, positions and biases and how these may impact their perspective on the election.
  • Reflect on your own identity, biases, and prejudices and be willing to authentically share how it influenced your perceptions of or reactions to the election.
  • As a child, were you around people who were engaged in politics through their participation and/or conversations? If so, what memories do you have about being engaged in politics? If not, did anyone ever speak about why they were not more active?
  • When did you first become aware of having political opinions? What do you think shaped them? Have your political opinions changed during this election cycle? Why/why not?
  • How do you think the events we’re living through this year may be affecting your political beliefs? Why?
  • How would you feel about the election if you had a different identity?
  • Resource: Gender and Intersectional Effects on Candidate Evaluation, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University
  • Resource: Voter Attitudes About Race and Gender Are More Divided than 2016, Pew Research Center.
Ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute and feel understood. Consider starting from a common text.
  • Suggest students listen to a podcast or read a common article or text ahead of time. Then start the discussion around that text. Suggested resource: JMU Psychology Professor Dr. Benjamin Blankenship on election emotions and how we can cope. https://www.jmu.edu/news/civic/2020/10-08-democracy-matters-episode-36.shtml
  • Consider showing a photo or image from the election and asking for student responses to questions like: How does this image make you feel? What do you see in this image? How might someone from an opposing viewpoint from your own react to this image?
  • JMU’s Lisanby Museum has a current exhibit on voting rights. Use class time to explore a few of the images. Ask for student responses to the images and how their reactions may relate to feelings or experiences with the 2020 elections.
Lean in to politics and to discrepancies between ideals and reality.
  • Admit there are problems with political and partisan divisions in our country that make it difficult to solve public problems (e.g. climate change, immigration, etc.). Ask students for their ideas for addressing political divisions and for solving public problems.
  • Students are knowledgeable about what is happening, but don’t necessarily see politics and outcomes reflecting their knowledge, positionality, perspectives, or backgrounds. Ask them what they would like to see from elected leaders and from our government and for their ideas of how we might get there.
Pose questions that allow students to express how they feel or what they are grappling with.
  • What did the election mean to you?
  • If you participated in the election, how did you feel about it? Why?
  • Can you think of reasons why some people might be disappointed in the election outcome?
  • Can you think of reasons why some people might be happy about the election outcome?
  • How might those who have been historically underrepresented, marginalized, or minoritized feel about participating in the election or about the results? How can you uplift and support their perspectives and voices?
  • What are ways you would like to see elected leaders work together on issues facing our community, nation, or world?
  • What are some public issues that are important to you? How can you and others address those issues by engaging different levels of government and connecting with others in their community?
  • What will you do to ensure we address issues facing our community, nation, or world? Offer some ideas: creating art, getting involved in student - like SGA - or community organizations, volunteering, providing research or expertise, uplift voices that are traditionally underrepresented, marginalized or minoritized, joining protests or petitions, writing public comments and attending local board and commission meetings on issues they care about, etc.).
  • What barriers or challenges are there to addressing issues facing our community, nation and world? How can we overcome them?
  • What is something that inspires you for the future of our democracy?
  • What kind of reforms would like to see to make our democracy more just and inclusive?
News information, Media Literacy, and Election Perceptions
Resources from JMU Counseling Center

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