Xavier readies for 2020 election

The university’s new initiative aims to address challenges that may arise

By Hunter Ellis | Staff Writer

In fall 2018, students bridged the divide to discuss politics from four perspectives. This year, Xavier launched an initiative called Take It On 2020 to prepare the campus for challenges that may come in an election year.

Xavier is launching an initiative called Take It On 2020 this winter to prepare the campus for any challenges that may arise in 2020 — particularly in relation to the upcoming general election in November.

Throughout this election year, students, faculty and staff will be engaging in difficult discussions about increasingly polarized issues.

“Take It On 2020 is an initiative that began at Father Graham’s request, in order to help the campus community to prepare for the challenges ahead in 2020,” Associate Dean Rachel Chrastil said. “We know that as a country we are divided, and we know we talk past each other, and we know we demonize each other. However, we also know that at Xavier, we can do better than that.”

A group of staff and administrators, including Chrastil, Director of Government Relations Sean Comer, Associate Provost for Student Affairs David Johnson and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Janice Walker, met with Father Michael Graham, president, in the fall and the initiative was born.

“The idea of encouraging a “Xavier way” of engaging controversial topics first surfaced at a breakfast I had with Faculty Committee in late fall,” Graham said. “The topic seemed especially timely given the 2020 general election. Two further discussions with a cross section of Xavier faculty and staff led to the initiative which Dr. Rachel Chrastil is now coordinating.”

There are two main goals of Take It On 2020, according to Chrastil. The first is to seek out differences and then find common ground on issues. The second primary goal of the initiative for the university lies in student engagement and listening to what students’ desires are.

“We want to hear the ideas of the students and what they want to hear, how they want to engage or lead these conversations,” Chrastil said.

“I want to be clear and say that there’s not a set plan we have for what kind of events we would like for Take It On 2020, we really want to engage students on the project and find out what their interests are,” said Sean Comer.

“One problem we’ve had in the past is that people want to have debates and talk about issues, but then only bring a speaker that represents one side of the conversation, and part of what Take It On 2020 is really focusing on is having conversations with people who have totally different views than us,” added Comer.

There will be several different kinds of events that the university plans to have throughout the year, and the initiative will transcend into many different areas of the Xavier community.

“I think the starting place is having workshops where we can build a toolkit for how to have a good conversation on campus,” said Comer. “We are close to finalizing this one piece, having someone come to the university and talk about helping us build the frameworks and skills of our conversations.”

“From there, we can have events that bring people together, whether we put people on the stage in a panel, or have an engaged discussion in an audience. These events are not necessarily to change anyone’s mind about any issue, but to emphasise the importance of the dialogue itself.”

One event that Dr. Chrastil believes will be helpful is the E/RS lecture series that already occurs on campus.

“We are hoping that we will have events that span the spectrum on the kinds of things you’d see on a college campus. We hope that faculty will think of ways to incorporate the goals of Take It On 2020 into their particular classes, both in what they are talking about and how they are talking about it,” said David Johnson.

There are a few particular topics that are very important to the initiative. “In keeping with our Jesuit heritage and liberal arts tradition, some issues on the forefront we want to focus on with this initiative is remembering the inherent dignity of the human person, as well as the importance of fact, nuance, and research,” said Chrastil.

One other thing that must be accounted for is the results of the November election. “We want to think practically and also think about what kinds of conversations will we need to have after the election as well,” said Dr. Chrastil. “No matter the results of the election, one side or the other is going to be extremely disappointed, we want to be able to heal our campus community in the wake of that.”

Many of the committee working on the initiative believe that the implications of this 2020 election year for our country are further reaching than just the Xavier community. Comer said, “If we aren’t willing to say that while I disagree with you vehemently on a certain important issue, I still will work with you on these dozen others, democracy will not be in a good place going forward,”

Chair of Political Science, Dr. Mack Mariani, noted, “Right now it is urgent for students to engage. One thing I even find myself doing in the last few years is starting to disengage, because the level of discourse has dropped so low, and people are at each other’s throats, and really, that’s no fun.” he said. “Therefore, trying to create a space where people can talk seriously about the challenges that face our country is of utmost importance to us.”

Dave Johnson said that the group wants everyone to be a part of the initiative. “We really see this as an initiative that we hope will engage students, leaders, staff, administration, and the whole of the university.”

“I hope that people see this as a personal invitation, whereby they can think about how they might contribute to a different way of engaging with their friends, family, and faculty,” said Johnson. “That it might have us engage the hard issues facing us and be sufficiently courageous when we undertake these discussions, using a sense of humility, open ears, and a willingness to speak from experiences and values.”

The Take It On 2020 initiative is one that President Father Michael Graham finds very important for the future. “Perhaps our biggest hope is that, as we develop this approach over time, we will help our students learn how to engage tough topics and carry that knowledge with them out into the communities they will call home.  Our nation is going to need them.”

For more information on the Take It On 2020 initiative, students are encouraged to check the page on Xavier’s website, or contact Dr. Chrastil for ideas or questions.