Student activists go home for the summer—and have awkward conversations with parents

Summer has granted college campuses a reprieve from the "marches, sit-ins, and shut-downs" that accompany arguments over "free speech, Black Lives matter, abortion, and President Trump," writes Dana Goldstein for New York Times.

But a quiet campus does not mean the arguments have stopped. Instead, these polarizing conversations have found a new frontier—home—and new opponents—parents. The arguments can leave students feeling that their parents are "hopelessly stuck" in a previous decade, and leave parents wondering what tuition actually pays for, writes Goldstein.

Rollins College senior, Nick D'Alessandro, and his mother, Susan, offer a classic picture of family difference as newly liberal Nick butts heads with his more conservative mother. Although he feels himself moving "left on the spectrum," most of Nick's family voted for Trump. In Susan's eyes, Nick becomes more liberal when he away at school, Goldstein writes. While Susan knows these arguments "don't change the core of their relationships," Nick hopes the conversations will "change their minds."

But not every college student returns more liberal. Nicholas Duffee, previously a "volunteer with Greenpeace and staunch atheist," returned from University of Chicago this summer with a newfound Catholic faith and a conservative viewpoint, writes Goldstein. For Nicholas, abortion is an especially sensitive topic that often lands him in hot water with his mother, Livia Corredor, a contributor to Naral Pro-Choice America.

Like many arguments in today's political discourse, Nicholas and Livia have trouble "agreeing on the facts," which can lead them to view the other as "crazy," says Nicholas. Livia hopes that her son's "thoroughness in researching new ideas" will lead to change of heart, but admits that her own passion for abortion rights often leads her to be the "angry" one.

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Some families try to keep the peace by avoiding political conversations altogether. Jennifer Lin, senior at Swarthmore College, comes to head with her mother, Wei Xue, over her support for Black Lives Matter. Although she disagrees with her mom's views on crime and terrorism, Lin has found that avoiding political conversations is the path of least resistance, she says.

For others, it's the parent who picks the battles. According to Kimberly Agora, she will "often back down" from arguments with her daughter, Abiola, a student activist at George Washington University, to give her blood pressure a break. The pair often disagrees on whether racism should be a barrier on where you can and can't go, writes Goldstein.

In Abiola's opinion, "you should be able to go where you want." But for Kimberly, her daughter still has a lot to learn and doesn't always respect her mother's "vast experience," she notes. Instead of engaging in every argument, Kimberly plans to wait for the right situation to teach her daughter the "lesson she needs her to know."

Still other families choose to face their differences head-on. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater senior, Callie Desch, is an advocate for gay and transgender rights. While her parents are becoming more understanding of her own gender and sexuality choices, the family still butts heads over, in Callie's characterization, her parents "not quite understanding the difference" between the two.

Lynn Olson-Desch, Callie's mother, attributes her new understanding of trans issues and pronouns to her daughter. But she and her partner are still unsure about what's "wrong with being a lesbian," notes Lynn. Although the family hasn't come to an agreement on the matter, Lynn says they'll continue to have honest conversations with Callie as they "do not want to be those parents who you can't talk to" (Goldstein, New York Times, 8/1).  

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