OGDEN — In his inauguration speech, President Joe Biden repeatedly expressed his desire to unite a country that is deeply politically divided, but polls conducted during the 2020 presidential election suggest that will be a difficult task.
To assess the polarization that exists in the U.S. and how it got there, Weber State University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, along with the school’s Division of Online & Continuing Education, is holding a free online community course titled “Why are we so polarized?” that begins March 15 and runs through April 29.
Approximately eight out of 10 voters among both those who supported Biden and those who supported former President Donald Trump said not only did they disagree with the other side when it comes to policy, but they also had “fundamental disagreements on core American values and goals,” according to Pew Research Center. The same survey found that nine out of 10 supporters in both camps believed the other candidate winning would bring “lasting harm” to the country.
Susan Matt, a Weber State history professor who worked on planning the course, said it will offer community members an opportunity to better understand the political divide in the U.S. and its root causes.
“It’s important for students, for citizens, for faculty to discuss the social, economic, political forces that are at work in our society — some of which unite us, some of which divide us — and be able to assess them so we understand where we’re going and how we got here,” she said.
The faculty at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences have hosted three free community courses like this before, Matt said. They each look at hot topics like the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 election and the continuing struggle for civil rights.
As she and her colleagues were brainstorming themes for a new course, according to Matt, someone threw out the idea of taking a deeper look at the polarization in America. “It resonated with everybody in the room,” she said.
Over the course of seven weeks, students will hear from 12 different professors and community members who will explore topics ranging from polarized moments in America’s past to how social media contributes to division today. They will also take a look at how polarization applies specifically to Ogden, Matt added.
“I don’t think there’s going to be one answer that says this and this alone is the reason that we’re seeing social division, but I think (students) are goin to see how there are lots of interlocking causes for our current polarized situation,” Matt said.
Instructors come from diverse disciplines, including history, economics, sociology, communication and political science. They each will take their own approach to the issue.
Each class session will last around 45 minutes, Matt said. It will be held over Zoom and Google Meet video conferencing platforms. If they attend each class, participants can earn one free credit from Weber State. Anyone who is interested can sign up at continue.weber.edu/communityed.
“(This class) should appeal to people from all walks of life,” Matt said. “We’re casting a wide net and hoping to bring in as diverse a set of participants as possible. The doors are wide open, and we’re hoping to have a good conversation.”