Understanding the Forces that Drive Us Apart: A Symposium on Polarization

As part of our Dignity and Respect in Action initiatives, this  symposium aimed to help participants to understand the history and dynamics of political and social polarization as well as offer opportunities to build skills to overcome it. The event took place on February 5, 2019 in the campus center auditorium.

Speaker bios

Full Schedule

Photo Highlights

Read a Summary of Lecia Brooks' Talk "Hate in the US Today"

Read a Summary of "The Structures of Polarization" Panel


Watch Anna Branch on the Polarization Symposium

Watch Lecia Brooks' Talk "Hate in the US Today"

Watch the First Panel: Hate in a Historical Perspective

Watch the Second Panel: The Structures of Polarization

Polarization Syllabus

From its historical foundations to its contemporary dynamics, the Polarization Syllabus draws on a range of interdisciplinary and mixed media resources to highlight factors that can act, often invisibly, to drive social and political polarization.One of the key social/psychological drivers of deepening polarization is the intransigence of beliefs, an inability and/or unwillingness to incorporate new ideas into our ways of thinking. These factors are not the domain of any one party--they are at play across the political spectrum. Today’s hyper-partisanship is not new, but the forms it takes, and its effects on policy, powerfully shape how we understand ourselves in both local and national contexts. Polarization is a feature of our society and we need to understand it in order to best combat it. Amid the many cultural and social forces that divide us, building inclusive communities requires intentional work to respectfully engage, focusing on our commonalities and not our differences.


Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. Helen Zia, 2001, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community. Robert D. Putnam, 2001, Simon and Schuster.

Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail. Raymond J. La Raja and Brian F. Schaffner, 2015, University of Michigan Press.

Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life. Alberto Ledesma, 2017, The Ohio State University Press.

Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict. Donna Hicks, 2011, Yale University Press.

Hate Crime: Impact, Causes and Responses. Neil Chakraboti and Jon Garland, 2009, Sage Publications.

How Democracies Die. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, 2018, Crown.

How The Irish Became White. Noel Ignatiev, 1995, Routledge.

Justice at War: The Story of the Japan American Internment Cases. Peter Irons, 1993, University of California Press.

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. George Lakoff, 2002, University of Chicago Press.

Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area. Harry Caudill, 2001, Jesse Stuart Foundation.

Red and Blue Nation? Characteristics and Causes of America’s Polarized Politics. Pietro S.

Nivola and David W. Brady (eds), 2006, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, and the Brookings Institution Press.

(((Semitism))) Being Jewish in the America in the Age of Trump. Jonathan Weisman, 2018. St. Martin’s Press.

Strangers in Their Own Land: A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide. Arlie Russell Hochschild, 2016, The New Press.

The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America. Ben Bradlee, Jr., 2018, Hachette Book Group.

The Little Book of Dialogue for Difficult Subjects: A Practical, Hands-On Guide. Lisa Schirch & Dr. David Campt, 2007, Good Books.

The Politics of Gender Series. Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, 2018, Brill.

The Politics of Exclusion: The Failure of Race-Neutral Policies in Urban America. Leland T. Saito, 2009, Stanford University Press.

The Violence of Hate: Confronting Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Bigotry. Jack Levin and Jim Nolan, 2010, Pearson.

This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. Gloria Anzaldúa and Analouise Keating (eds.), 2013,   Routledge.

Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. Lilliana Mason, 2018, University of Chicago Press.

Watches of the Night (Sequel to Night Comes to the Cumberlands). Harry Caudill, 1976, little Brown.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Nancy Eisenberg, 2017, Penguin.

Journal Articles

Difficult People: Who Is Perceived to Be Demanding in Personal Networks and Why Are They There? Shira Offer and Claude S. Fischer, 2018. American Sociological Review 83:111-142.

Donald Trump as a cultural revolt against perceived communication restriction: Priming political correctness norms causes more Trump support. Lucian Gideon Conway, III, Meredith A. Repke, and Shannon C. Houck, 2017. Journal of Social and Political Psychology 5(1):244-259.

Equality and Freedom of Expression: The Hate Speech Dilemma. Toni M. Massaro, 1991. William & Mary Law Review 32(2): 211-265.

If He Hollers Let Him Go: Regulating Racist Speech on Campus. Charles R. Lawrence III, 1990 Duke Law Journal 431

Neural Correlates of Maintaining One’s Political Beliefs In the Face of Counterevidence. Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel, and Sam Harris, 2016. Scientific Reports.

Political homophily in social relationships: Evidence from online dating behavior. Gregor A. Huber and Neil Malhotra, 2017. ”The Journal of Politics 79: 269-283.

Politics in peer groups: Exploring the causal relationship between network diversity and political participation. Ellen Quintelier, Dietlind Stolle, and Allison Harell, 2012. Political Research Quarterly 65: 868-881

Politics, Religion, and Society: Is The United States Experiencing a Period of Religious-Political Polarization? Thomas A. Hirschl, James G. Booth, Leland L. Glenna, & Brandn Q. Green, 2012. Review of European Studies, 4(4), 95.

The social structure of political echo chambers: Variation in ideological homophily in online networks. Andrei Boutyline and Robb Willer, 2017. Political Psychology, 38: 551- 569.

The Origins and Consequences of Affective Polarization in the United States.Shanto Iyengar, Yphtach Lelkes, Matthew Levendusky, Neil Malhotra, and Sean J. Westwoods, 2018. Annual Review of Political Science, 22(1).

The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research. Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock, 2017. Sociological Science, 4, 686-700.

Understanding the Moral Event, The Polarity Model of Ethical Discourse. Joseph A Selling, 2009.  Louvain Studies, 34(1), 19.

News Articles

Americans Have Grown to Hate Presidents of the Other Party. Neal Rothschild, August 9, The Axios.

Hate Crimes Increased for the 3rd Year in a Row, FBI Reports. John Eligon, November 13, 2018, New York Times.

How do Christians Fit into the Two Party System? Timothy Keller, September 29, 2018 New York Times.

How Historical Illiteracy Fuels Political Polarization. Rachel DiCarlo Currie, February 27, 2017, American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

How politically moderate are Americans? Less than it seems. Christopher Hare and Keith T. Poole, January 22, 2014. The Washington Post.

Our Politics May Be Polarized. But That’s Nothing New.David W. Brady and Hahrie Han, January 16, 2014, The Washington Post

Political Polarization and Media Habits. Amy Mitchell, Katerina Eva Matsa, Jeffrey Gottfried, and Jocelyn Kiley, October 21, 2014. Pew Research Center.

Speaking Up Without Tearing Down.” A veteran human rights educator explains the value of teaching students to call each other in rather than out. Loretta J. Ross, Issue 61, Spring 2019. Teaching Tolerance.  

The MAGA hat is not a statement of policy. It’s an inflammatory declaration of identity. Robin Givhan, January 24, 2019, The Washington Post.

The real reasons Donald Trump’s so popular — for people totally confused by it.Jeff Guo, December 12, 2015, Washington Post.

The Republican Party Needs to Embrace Liberalism. David Frum, November 2018. The Atlantic.

We are Not the Resistance. Michelle Alexander, September 21, 2018, New York Times.  

What History Teaches About Partisanship and Polarization, Sam Rosenfeld, July 23, 2018, scholars.org.

What’s the Answer to Political Polarization in the U.S.? Russell Berman, March 8, 2016, The Atlantic.

When Newsrooms are Dominated by White People, They Miss Crucial Facts. Jelani Cobb, November 5, 2018. The Guardian.

Mixed Media

Free Speech vs. Hate Speech, NPR June 15, 2018

Freedom of Speech: Harm Principle & Boundaries of Debate. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

How NOT to be an Ally – Part 1 “Centering the Privileged. Kim Case Blog, October 25, 2018.

How NOT to be an Ally – Part 2 “He-peat, Re-white, and Amplification. Kim Case Blog, December 3, 2018.


Free Speech Can Be Messy But We Need it. March 9, 2018. TEDx Talk by Lee Rowland, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project

How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk boldly toward them. TED Talk by Verna Myers

Migration is Beautiful video series.

National Identity vs. Identity Politics (video lecture). Francis Fukuyama. Stanford University, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Political Common Ground in a Polarized United States. TED Talk by Gretchen Carlson and David Brooks

The Danger of a Single Story. TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie.


Beyond Red vs. Blue: Political Typology. Pew Research Center.


Apathy Is Not an Option 
A Southern Poverty Law Center resource for staying engaged in the face of bias and hate-related incidents.

Compare Political Typology Groups 
The Pew Research Center’s Political Typology looks beyond “Red vs. Blue” in American politics, sorting voters into cohesive groups, based on their attitudes and values – not their partisan labels. Use this tool to compare the groups on key topics: U.S. & EconomyPolitics & Elections,

Government & Economic PolicyForeign Policy & SecurityDomestic Policy and Religion & Society. You can also compare the groups by their demographics.

Map of White Supremacist Flyering in the U.S.
A new tracking tool from the Southern Poverty Law Center that maps incidents and trends in Hate Group flyering activity, state-by-state. Use this resource to better understand how Hate Group activity has shifted in recent years.

Which of the 11 Americas Do You Live In? By Reid Wilson Washington Post
A review of Colin Woodward’s article that details the cultural and historical forces that have led to the emergence of several distinct forms of values and norms throughout the United States. As Woodward argues, these divergences make the U.S. many nations, not just one.

You’re Not Going to Believe What I’m About To Tell You. Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal (webcomic).
An overview of the “Backfire Effect,” and how we can become even more entrenched in our beliefs in when faced with evidence to the contrary.