Sun. May 26th, 2024

Before coming to West Chester, I was married to the standard five-paragraph, double-spaced MLA essay. We were the perfect pair — I could be argumentative or persuasive, or section out my body paragraphs into three separate topics. I mean, what more could a girl ask for? 

It wasn’t until my second semester that I knew I would have to delve into a different format of writing — research writing. I landed on WRT208, research writing towards the public sphere, as I assumed this topic would pertain most to what I want to do after university, even though I’m still not sure what I’m doing after I graduate; something political, something in the public sphere… probably. 

My professor, Justin Rademaekers, quickly made it clear that this type of writing would be nothing like the typical opinion writing many of us were mainly exposed to in high school and other classes. We had to write analytically, unbiasedly and learn how to collect our own data pertaining to our own research question. The topic? Research on Media Technology in Society. My question: Do college students agree with politically polarized media? 

I created a survey to find out. I crafted a list of questions on a Google Form that I thought would satisfy my curiosity and sent out the link to friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends — you get the point. All in all, I got 34 responses from college students — I’d estimate about half of them from WCU — and began to develop my understanding of whether or not college students feel represented by the political media they see. 

As I got to analyzing the statistics, I found the process to be much more mechanical and enjoyable than I thought it would be. Connecting that people stand with their beliefs, but not the version of them they see in the media; that most students are much more open to hearing opposing views than we think; and that a majority of us want to see more cohesiveness. Sounds great, doesn’t it? 

A little too great, in fact, because despite students saying they want cohesiveness, they don’t actually contribute to the change in conversation themselves. Why? The media has led by example, with polarized opinions and facts constantly clashing with each other and showing no communication between parties. It has trickled down to younger generations, and has made many not even want to chime into political conversation. “Condescending,” “extreme,” and “twisted,” were just a few choice words respondents used when asked to share their opinions on the current state of political conversation. 

Students want to see a change, yet they won’t contribute to it, because the notion that political conversation will always be argumentative or nasty has led many to stop conversing at all. So, we see younger generations, much like older ones, have little conversational cohesiveness over issues, but unlike what we see in the media it’s not because of polarization, it’s because there is a fear of political communication overall. Isn’t that an interesting conclusion to get a grasp on? 

And it was a fun narrative to lay out, but it wasn’t so fun trying to get people to fill out my survey, but we got there! Not only was it enthralling to learn about others’ views, but the creativity that came with laying out my own primary research was arguably much more fun than any MLA paper I’ve had to write. This paper also piqued my interest in exploring more about polarization in the media, not only in this class but my other ones as well — an understanding that will undoubtedly continue to lead me to greater conclusions surrounding the topic of political division in the media.


Sarah Connors is a first-year Communications major with a minor in Political Science.

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