Politics: polite and productive?

The Affordable Care Act has sparked controversy and debate throughout the nation over health care issues. At Grand Valley State University, the College Republicans and College Democrats will host the first Civil Discourse Night to discuss these concerns from both sides.

Although President Barack Obama signed the act in 2010, it continues to be considered an issue, as 2014 marks the year when all Americans should have access to affordable health care options. Supporters of the act argue that it helps those who have no medical insurance by giving them coverage. Critics argue that the act is damaging businesses by requiring them to pay more per employee.

GVSU freshman Irada Choudhuri is a member of the College Democrats, a student political organization on campus. Choudhuri agreed that the Affordable Care Act is a controversial issue and said Civil Discourse Night will be a casual discussion where members of the GVSU and West Michigan communities can have their opinions heard.

“We want to get people engaged in a different format,” Choudhuri said. “The goal is to start with productive conversations instead of destructive and to discuss things on which we disagree.”

She said she does not expect the participants to agree on everything, but she hopes the event helps foster a better understanding of the issues. She also expressed the need to change how politics is often discussed today.

“Students are the ones who are going to make the change,” Choudhuri said. “I hope they take away that politics doesn’t have to turn into a nasty fight. We can talk about issues that are typically polarizing in a respectful and logical manner.”

She added that many people have strong opinions and want a forum they can use to express them so their voices can be heard.

“It’s not a debate,” Choudhuri said. “It’s to engage in dialogue with people who have different opinions.”

Evan Wallace, also a GVSU freshman, is a member of the College Republicans who has helped plan the event with Choudhuri. The two live in the same dorm, just across the hall from each other. When they began to talk about politics, Wallace realized their views are very different.

“We were able to have stimulating discussions with each other over these issues without it becoming personal or mean-spirited,” he said. “This idea of respectful discussion is what civil discourse is based on, so when Irada wanted to make an event out of it, I thought it would just make sense to help out.”

Wallace added that people do not have to get angry when they discuss politics. He said events like Civil Discourse Night are important because they foster discussion from both sides that can lead to practical solutions if the debate focuses on the issue itself rather than the person discussing it.

“I feel that many people on both sides are not entirely sure what the ACA is and what it does,” Wallace said. “Because of these misunderstandings, arguments over it start to turn venomous, and phrases like ‘Obama is a Socialist’ and ‘Republicans hate poor people’ start getting thrown around. This is the type of thing that Civil Discourse Night will avoid.”

Matthew Nugent, a junior at GVSU, is the chairman of the College Republicans. Nugent has also been meeting with Choudhuri to plan the event, and he said he hopes more college students get involved in the discussion because they can learn from others who have different perspectives on the same issues. Many college students, he said, do not understand that the Affordable Care Act will affect them.

“This law will directly affect college students and those just graduating,” he said. “One major reason for the high costs is that our generation needs to sign on to an ACA plan so we can subsidize the plans for the older generations.”

The event is tonight at 9 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center Pere Marquette Room. There will be free food, and attendees can win gift cards as door prizes.

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