SPEC, Unity Council promote safe spaces for political discussion


Courtesy of SPEC

In their third PerSPECtives volume, SPEC encouraged readers to use educational resources to learn about the election and political issues.

As news outlets called states and made predictions three days after the polls closed, many students frantically checked electoral votes at every opportunity.

“I felt anxious about the results,” junior Lily Pesikoff said, “and what they would mean as far as my personal headspace and the country itself, considering how divided we were and still are today.”

Courtesy of SPEC

The St. John’s Political Education Club (SPEC), a nonpartisan student organization dedicated to fostering a healthy, productive political environment on campus, knew that many would be upset at the outcome of the election. SPEC President Piper Edwards anticipated a “very emotional reaction” because “there is so much controversy around the candidates and so much fear in our country.”

SPEC and Unity Council leaders collaborated with Head of Upper School Hollis Amley and Director of Community and Inclusion Gene Batiste to create election “safe spaces” where students could reflect and de-stress. On Nov. 3, 4 and 6, the leaders held lunchtime discussion circles on the plaza where students shared their anxieties about the upcoming results. Students also met under the Westheimer tent during free periods to participate in peer- and faculty-led conversation.

“Students [were] wondering what the result of the election means for the state of the country and what their place is in it,” SPEC faculty sponsor Russell Hardin said. “People [asked] those questions either in small groups or internally.”

For Pesikoff, the circles were a valuable opportunity to “get [her] thoughts out.”

“This is a very pivotal election for more reasons than just the presidential candidates. It’s an election on the census because there hasn’t been an agreement on a transfer of powers,” Edwards said. “Talking with people that disagree with you creates a new viewpoint that helps you look at something with a different perspective.”

Talking with people that disagree with you creates a new viewpoint that helps you look at something with a different perspective.

— Senior Piper Edwards

Before the election, the organization prioritized educating students about governmental structure and policy. In late October, SPEC held a school-wide mock election to determine the most popular dessert, an activity that explained the purpose and process of the Electoral College. Both the popular and electoral vote elected ice cream over cookies.

“The purpose of awarding different grades a different number of electoral votes was so that students could see that because of the electoral breakdown, a dessert that was not favored by the majority of the students could still win [the election],” Hardin said.

SPEC’s role goes beyond education. Debating and addressing different viewpoints advocates finding common ground as a mechanism to promote healthy political discourse.

“The smaller [discussion circles] made it easy to talk while being able to listen to those around me,” Pesikoff said. “[We had] common fears and common hopes, and we were all voicing our concerns and comforting each other.”