HSC in the Independent: Political Polarization Challenges City High School Students

Photo features HSC students Sean, Lily, and Natalie (front row).

From the New Haven Independent, 11/22/16:

For New Haven high-school students, the results of the presidential election came as a shock — because they almost all of the information they heard in the months leading up to it came from left-leaning sources.

Now they’re trying to figure out how to adjust to a new reality, and what to do about it.

That theme emerged from a televised panel discussion with 12 high school local students. The discussion took place this past week about “The Effects of Political Polarization,” which was broadcasted live on the “OneWorld Presents” program on Citizens Television. The discussion was organized by host N’Zinga Shani and facilitated by Capital Community College professor Antonette Brim and former New Haven Public Schools administrator Marc Palmieri.

The students on the show were asked: What do you want to say to everyone watching tonight?

It’s difficult to find moderate viewpoints in the news and on social media, they said. Many of the students said they felt they were in a bubble this campaign season, hearing only from the left. They said that the election result came as a shock because of this.

But all of the panelists said they hoped to hear from the other side and seek compromise, a tack President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton have advocated in speeches after Election Day.

“It’s easy to call people ignorant and racist, but at the end of the day that doesn’t change anything,” said Natalie Cassar, a senior at High School in the Community.

Although they were not eligible to vote in the last presidential election, they will cast ballots supporting progressive policies in the next mid-term elections.

Several students also said they were dissatisfied with the existing political parties. It turns people into one-issue voters, Cassar said.

Rose Silver, a senior at West Haven High School, said one question she has been thinking about is whether it is ethical for people to vote “selfishly” on single issues, such as abortion or gay rights, without considering a given candidate’s other views.

“Are you guys going to be the generation that busts up the two-party system?” Brim asked.

Nelson said that the rise of third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in this election might already indicate the two-party system’s decline.

“This discussion confirmed for me that our generation is ready to make a change,” said Andrew Gordon, a senior at West Haven High School.

Other students stressed the importance of healing before moving on.

Sean Nelson, a high school student who is gay and the son of immigrant parents, looked right into a camera and spoke slowly.

“I want [elected officials] to know that we are people,” he said. “If you make policies against the LGBT community, the immigrant community and the Muslim community, we will come together, and we will take those policies down.”

“Politics is personal,” Nelson said. “When someone agrees that our VP-elect is a good choice, that’s personal.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence is an opponent of gay marriage and has been criticized for supporting conversion therapy.

“It’s really hard to love your country and feel proud of your country if you feel like your country isn’t proud of you back,” said Coral Ortiz, a senior at Hillhouse High School.

Palmieri said he was impressed with the level of political engagements the panelists demonstrated. He said they are more informed at a young age than generations before them have been.