About 45 alumni, students, and community members gathered inside the Phillips Brooks House parlor room on Saturday to discuss the polarization of the media during a roundtable event hosted by the Harvard Alumni for Global Women’s Empowerment.
Harvard GlobalWE, a shared interest group of the Harvard Alumni Association, raises awareness of issues concerning women’s rights and freedoms worldwide.
Sajida H. Shroff — the discussion facilitator and president of Harvard GlobalWE — said the annual event began last year in response to the #MeToo movement, a social movement in which women have shared their experiences in dealing with sexual harassment. This year’s theme focused on how women are reshaping a divided media.
“The goal, for today, was to get people to understand that you have to look beyond the surface of when you get some information and you have to think about where it’s coming from, who it’s coming from, why it’s coming from them,” Shroff said in an interview after the event.
The event’s guest speaker, Annafi Wahed, co-founded the Flip Side, which curates a daily newsletter for subscribers featuring articles from both left- and right-leaning sources. Wahed was joined by Allison L. Pillinger Choi ’06 and Angela Cho, both Flip Side board members. Shroff said in the interview that Harvard GlobalWE chose to feature the Flip Side because the company presents “both sides of an argument in a way that lets you then make the educated decision.”
Pillinger Choi said during the discussion that she experienced the effect of political polarization as a conservative undergraduate on Harvard’s campus.
“I learned very quickly that it was not good, not cool, to be right of center on campus,” Pillinger Choi said. “I laid low, I did not join the IOP, I did other things, but I think that that is part of the reason why… we are at this place we are today in the world.”
“I think I was part of the problem by not speaking out,” she added.
The roundtable conversation stressed the importance of considering the way media outlets may write stories to fit a desired framework. Wahed said this was particularly the case with women’s issues.
“First of all, women are 52 percent of the global population. When we talk about women's issues — healthcare is a women’s issue, affordable housing is a women’s issue, taxes are a women’s issue,” Wahed said. “The way we frame the issue matters.”
Pillinger Choi added that there is a “big opportunity for women to get involved” in the media, especially at the grassroots level.
Attendees said they enjoyed hearing about the importance of bipartisanship understanding in advancing political change.
“I found that it was very enriching to hear the bipartisan perspective and lean about how there are active steps that are being made to engage both sides of the spectrum and working towards a rich and fulfilling future, really,” Skye R. Regan, an attendee, said in an interview after the event.
Participants were given handouts from the speakers detailing statistics on media polarization and recommended resources to continue the conversation.
“I think directly after the talk, I was a little bit confused because ultimately each news organization has to make a profit they have to sort of like target people and advertise to them, but then ultimately I think the mission of Flip Side is moving in the right direction,” Sofia M. Zoullas ’19 said.