After the 2016 presidential election, the divide between America’s two major parties deepened to an extreme degree, and it seemed to some UMBC students that there was nowhere they could express their political opinions safely and civilly.
This need for civil political discourse is what inspired SGA, College Democrats and College Republicans to devise Coffee and Conversation. This event was first developed in late 2016 by Meghan Lynch, the former SGA Vice President of Student Organizations, who was inspired by the enthusiasm she witnessed at SGA’s Election Night Extravaganza.
“That kind of grew into this idea of having civil discussions about important issues,” explains Julia Byrne, a junior history major and the current vice president of College Democrats. Previous discussion topics have included gun control, immigration, education and gender discrimination. This semester, the topic being addressed is health care.
“We chose healthcare because we wanted to choose something that was prevalent nationally but also locally,” says College Republicans president Scott Buchan, a junior political science major. He also feels that students should be informed on the topic because it is a central issue in the current gubernatorial race.
The upcoming discussion will take place on Oct. 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Skylight Room and will feature Catherine Kirk Robins, deputy director of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, an organization that aims “to educate Marylanders about feasible and effective ways to expand access to quality affordable health insurance for all residents of our state,” (according to its website) and Edward Hudgins, the research director at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. Hudgins also spoke about education during a previous Coffee and Conversation. The pair will discuss the topic before opening the conversation up to questions from attendees.
Buchan notes that in previous years, though Coffee and Conversation has been successful, it has been unable to reach students that are not already engaged in civil discourse. However, this year they are attempting to advertise to a wider audience to engage students who have never attended a similar event.
According to Byrne, Coffee and Conversation is more than a simple debate; it is a forum for students to learn about issues relevant to their lives. “One of the things college campuses do well is provide access to information, but a lot of times, there’s so much information it can be hard to know where to start,” Byrne explains. She sees the ability to discuss, brainstorm and consider new ideas in a space with other passionate students as the embodiment of the, “college spirit and the spirit of learning.”
It is also important to Byrne that this is a nonpartisan event. Although she acknowledges that, “there are a lot of things about the current Republican party that I would never try to lend credence to,” she believes that those on opposite sides of the aisle need to be able to come together to inform their peers, lead discussions and encourage political engagement. “Discussing what form of healthcare is the best for other people and how we can help as many people as possible,” says Byrne. “I think there’s something we can find common ground on regarding that.”
Correction: Coffee and Conversation was moved from Oct. 10 6 – 8 p.m. to Oct. 10 7 – 9 p.m. The article has been edited to reflect this change.