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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Turning political apathy into empathy

I have been asked on numerous occasions about the political makeup of Notre Dame’s campus. Typically, my response is something along the lines of: “We have very passionate advocates at both ends of the spectrum, but many people fall somewhere in the middle.”

There are two main reasons for this. On the one hand, some students simply do not care about political issues. On the other, students often feel as though it is not worth the persistence, frustration and exhaustion that inevitably comes with addressing political discord. We should recognize, however, that there is an important distinction between genuine political apathy and the choice to avoid political conversations that require extensive time and energy to initiate and navigate successfully.

When Notre Dame students voice their preference to avoid talking about politics, I cannot blame them. The United States political landscape has reached an inflection point. More tension, hatred and turmoil exists in our political system now than ever before. Right now, we must decide whether we have what it takes to heal our democratic system and more importantly, to learn how to talk to each other.

I am often told that our generation is the country’s only hope. First, let me say that I am sure that this experience is not unique to me. As a collective group of current and soon-to-be twenty-somethings, we often feel the weight of safeguarding a two-hundred-and-something-year-old system on our shoulders. It is therefore easy to fall into the mindset that our individual efforts are trivial. It is a fair question: What can you do to change our country’s trajectory?

I am here to tell you that at this inflection point, healing and progress are possible, but only with your help. When we reject political conversations simply because they are difficult, we fail the future generations of American citizens who will have to work ten times harder to preserve what will be left of our democracy. The time is now and the implications are severe.

Now, let me offer you hope.

At Notre Dame, we often brag about the University’s strong and unique sense of community. We emphasize our diversity of backgrounds and opinions, talents and interests and ambitions and successes. However, the Notre Dame community is not immune to political polarization. Many of us have witnessed firsthand the tangible and harmful effects of political division on campus. To uphold the incredible community on which we pride ourselves, we must address these issues which threaten to undermine our mission and values as a whole.

At Notre Dame, we are fortunate enough to have our own chapter of BridgeUSA, an organization committed to bridging the political divide one conversation at a time. We believe in the power of conversation. Specifically, we believe that productive and respectful multi-partisan discourse is essential to healing our democracy and training young people to do what our politicians cannot. Respect is a prerequisite. BridgeND provides a forum for discussion for all people.

Although it can be hard to see, hear or feel our impact, change happens every time BridgeND hosts a meeting. Change happens every time students of different backgrounds and political beliefs come together to discuss the most critical and sometimes the most controversial problems facing our country. Personally, BridgeND equips me with the necessary tools to create a more welcoming United States, while generating enthusiasm and optimism to brave the tumultuous landscape that is American politics. To all of our members, thank you for showing up!

With the weight of American democracy on our shoulders, it can sometimes feel impossible to make a difference. However, I can assure you that when we come together with a common purpose, the result is always progress. After all, we are the next generation of policymakers, leaders and change makers. To turn political apathy into empathy, we must give each other a reason to care. I care because I see and respect the passion of my peers who demonstrate the necessary courage and perseverance to talk politics on our college campus.

Our Lady’s campus is the ideal place to have these discussions. Our student population possesses a vast array of political opinions. As I mentioned earlier, there is immense passion, motivation and enthusiasm across the political spectrum at the University. We must channel this energy into change. As a student body, we must tolerate each other enough to listen and respect each other enough to discuss.

You will never be asked to change your values and beliefs at BridgeND. Rather, you will be asked to share them with others and listen when others share theirs with you. You will be challenged to enter conversations with individuals with whom you fundamentally disagree. We cannot promise that this experience will change your life and immediately result in multi-partisan collaboration. We can promise that you will leave each meeting feeling a little bit more fulfilled, a little bit more inspired and a little bit more involved in the preservation of American democracy.

If you are interested in being a part of the change, I encourage you to attend a meeting. If you are already a BridgeND member, I encourage you to speak your mind, suggest topics for discussion and keep showing up because that makes all the difference.

Ashlyn Poppe is a second-year student living in Pasquerilla West Hall studying global affairs and political science. She currently serves as the Vice President for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1, South W106 to learn about and discuss current political issues. The club can be reached at or on Twitter @bridge_ND.


BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.