On Nov. 2, 2021, members of the University of Mississippi family came together to protest the recent requirement of all UM faculty and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
I took some time to interact with one of the protesters after she finished marching. She was an older woman and incredibly kind. She expressed to me her discontent with IHL’s decision, and how she believed vaccine mandates were impeding our freedom and right to choose. She wanted to be a voice to the employees and student workers that would be impacted by vaccine mandates. We even took a picture together in front of her sign that read: “Mandatory vaccines? A pill we cannot swallow.”
I did not tell her that I support vaccine mandates, but that interaction was important nonetheless. It is important to remember that with any form of civil discourse, we are still interacting with human beings. At first, I was frustrated with them for not understanding. I wanted them to know that the COVID-19 vaccine was safe and that it is now the only viable option to end the pandemic, but being able to put a face and a personality to an ideology changed my perspective on the protesters.
The veil of anonymity that online forms and social media pages create can do so much harm. It makes it much easier to ridicule a person instead of their ideas. Online debates can become incredibly heated over contentious topics, but people are not their political parties and affiliations.
Technology companies understand the content that people enjoy consuming. Google is open about the fact that they curate ads based on their users’ interests. Google will estimate financial status, race, age and interests based on search histories and curate our feeds to match our interests and guide us to finding online communities. Finding community is important, but it can very easily turn into an echo chamber. If we don’t live interacting with others who think differently from us, we have so much to lose.
I encourage everyone to step outside of their comfort zones and interact with people that they normally would not interact with. Do not go into these interactions wanting an argument or certain response. Just hear people out.
Coming to UM, I have found it very easy to come into contact with people who have very different political beliefs from my own, with many classes and organizations making these interactions easier to come by.
Some of the most fulfilling interactions I have had are with people who are on the exact opposite end of the political spectrum from me. If we can respect each other as humans first, the disagreements that we may have on policy can fall on the back burner.
This is not to say that political disagreements shouldn’t happen or that people should not be told when they believe in harmful ideologies. Harmful beliefs and behaviors must be corrected. Disagreements over non-human rights issues, however, are a natural part of living in a country that allows for free speech. We cannot allow disagreements to take away from our ability to build relationships.
Janelle Minor is a freshman public policy leadership major from Oxford.