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Home Research Guides Civil Discourse

Civil Discourse


Introduction

In an era of increasingly polarized and acrimonious discourse, making the time to re-engage in listening, sense-making, and sharing offers an opportunity to recalibrate our public dialogues and co-construct a respectful and engaged community. The series of facilitated brown bag discussions listed below are part of what the Libraries hope will be an on-going project dedicated to civil discourse(s) about the urgent issues facing all of us. Please feel free to attend even if you have not had time to do the readings.

Participants are asked to hold to the following rules of engagement:

  • Maintain an open and respectful atmosphere
  • Engage/disagree with the idea not the person expressing it
  • No one or two individuals should dominate
  • Listen with empathy to understand one another

The Location: Weber Reading Room in the Main Library

The Weber Reading Room holds the Shott Collection, which includes award-winning popular fiction and non-fiction material on a variety of subjects. This is a centrally located space by the main entrance to the Library that provides a comfortable place for students to read, study, and socialize.

To view the discussion questions from previous civil discourse sessions please click here.

 


Spring 2019 Topics

Controversial Speakers on Campus

April 16, 2019, 12:30-1:30 PM

Increasingly, controversial speakers on university campuses are being met with protests and violence - and sometimes they are never making it to campus in the first place. How should universities respond to competing pressures to either host or deny a controversial speaker?

Readings:

Speaking of Speech: What Should Colleges Do When Controversial Figures Want To Come To Campus?https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2018/06/19/speaking-of-speech-what-should-colleges-do-when-controversial-figures-want-to-come-to-campus/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e3adbb231efc

Colleges Changing Their Policies After Visits From Controversial Speakershttps://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/21/colleges-changing-their-policies-after-visits-controversial-speakers

Do Controversial Speakers Have A Right To Speak At Public Universities?https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2017/04/20/do-controversial-figures-have-a-right-to-speak-at-public-universities/37431059/

UC Berkeley Cancels "Alt-Right" Speaker Milos Yiannopoulos as Thousands Protesthttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/milo-yiannopoulos-uc-berkeley-event-cancelled

Framing Questions:

  • How should universities weigh the value of bringing in someone with an unpopular opinion vs. free speech vs. campus safety?
  • Is it a better strategy in the long run to invite speakers who are more moderate?
  • How should people who are opposed to the speaker respond? Should they respond at all?
  • Are we as a society (or as a campus) "snowflakes" who aren't able to handle dissonant ideas at all?

Civility in Politics

March 27, 2019, 3:30-4:30 PM

The next topic in our series of Civil Discourses is about civility in politics. A political science class will be joining us. Please join the conversation in the Weber Reading Room, Main Library. 

Context:

Each campaign cycle brings a renewed condemnation of the “incivility” of American politics. This central thesis is usually accompanied by other arguments – that this incivility is worse than usual; that this incivility is why more Americans don’t pay attention to politics; that this incivility is why we experience gridlock in our policy-making. In short, the common stance is that incivility is harmful to democracy.

What exactly do we mean by incivility, though? Where do we draw the line between healthy conflict and debate and incivil bickering? This week’s discussion will start from two pieces from a civility symposium in PS: Political Science & Politics (July 2012). L. Sandy Maisel lays out the central argument for why incivility is harmful to democracy; Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Bruce Hardy consider the institutions of media, and the role they play in argument (civil and otherwise). What role might we all play in moving our society to engaged, deliberative, and mutually respectful dialogue?

Readings:

Maisel, Sandy L. 2012. “The Negative Consequences of Uncivil Political Discourse.”PS: Political Science & Politics 45(3): 405-411.  To view, click on this link: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096512000467

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall and Bruce Hardy. 2012. “What Is Civil Engaged Argument and Why Does Aspiring to It Matter?” PS: Political Science & Politics 45(3): 412-415. To view, click on this link: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096512000479.

Framing Questions:

  • Give one example of civil and incivil political interaction. If you can’t necessarily think of a specific political example, you could develop a hypothetical one, or use an example that isn’t overtly political. What was it about these examples that made them civil or incivil?
  • Both of the readings were written in 2012 – not that long ago according to a calendar but, in many ways, a lifetime ago in terms of our political history. Do these analyses still apply? How have things changed and how are they the same?
  • One of the hardest things about discussing civility in politics is defining what that means. What do the authors say about what civility is? What do you think civility is?
  • Why do we tend to consider civility as something to strive for? What are the positive social benefits of a civil society?
  • Maisel identifies two primary ways that incivility might harm democracy: by making it difficult to recruit public officials and by making it difficult to govern. What do you think about these? Have you observed either of these things taking place? Are there other potential negative consequences to incivility?
  • What are potential negative consequences of too much civility?
  • Think of examples where charges of “incivility” may have actually been used to silence individuals or ideas. What is it about these situations that complicate them?
  • Hall Jamieson and Hardy discuss the role of the media in questions of civility. How do the media exacerbate or mitigate the effects of (in)civility? What other institutions might be implicated?
  • Social media and (in)civility. Discuss.
  • What can each of us do as individuals to contribute to a culture of rigorous but civil discussion and debate? (I think for many of us in this region, the harder work is thinking about how we contribute to the rigorous side of that.)

Controversial Topics in the Classroom

February 19, 2019, 12:30-1:30 PM

Any faculty member who does not automatically assume that he or she is being recorded while teaching a class is being naive. The technology to do so is far too simple and ubiquitous. ALWAYS assume you are being recorded while in public, and adjust your comments and behavior accordingly.

~ Colleen Flaherty, InsideHigherEd

Readings: 

Marquette University Grad Student Being Targeted After Ending A Class Discusison On Gay Marriage https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/11/20/marquette-u-grad-student-shes-being-targeted-after-ending-class-discussion-gay

Related Coverage (optional):

 

Student Secretly Records Professor's Anti-Trump Comments: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/12/12/student-secretly-records-professors-anti-trump-comments

 

Related Coverage (optional):

Interview With Professor At Center Of 'Jesus' Debate At Florida Atlantic: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/01/interview-professor-center-jesus-debate-florida-atlantic

 

Related Coverage:

Framing Questions (optional):

  • Has recording technology changed the way we teach? Should it?
  • What are the pros and cons of having a “recording policy”?
  • Why do some students “socially shame” their instructors?
  • Is social media an effective venue for discussing conflict/discomfort/anger with professors and course content?

 

 


Controversial Speakers on Campus

Increasingly, controversial speakers on university campuses are being met with protests and violence - and sometimes they are never making it to campus in the first place. How should universities respond to competing pressures to either host or deny a controversial speaker?

Readings:

Speaking of Speech: What Should Colleges Do When Controversial Figures Want To Come To Campus?https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2018/06/19/speaking-of-speech-what-should-colleges-do-when-controversial-figures-want-to-come-to-campus/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e3adbb231efc

Colleges Changing Their Policies After Visits From Controversial Speakershttps://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/21/colleges-changing-their-policies-after-visits-controversial-speakers

Do Controversial Speakers Have A Right To Speak At Public Universities?: https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2017/04/20/do-controversial-figures-have-a-right-to-speak-at-public-universities/37431059/

UC Berkeley Cancels "Alt-Right" Speaker Milos Yiannopoulos as Thousands Protest: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/milo-yiannopoulos-uc-berkeley-event-cancelled

Framing Questions:

  • How should universities weigh the value of bringing in someone with an unpopular opinion vs. free speech vs. campus safety?
  • Is it a better strategy in the long run to invite speakers who are more moderate?
  • How should people who are opposed to the speaker respond? Should they respond at all?
  • Are we as a society (or as a campus) "snowflakes" who aren't able to handle dissonant ideas at all?

 


Fall 2018 Topics

Women in the Academy

In April of this year, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a series of short essays under the heading, “The Awakening: Women and Power in the Academy.” In partnership with the Libraries, Office of Teaching and Learning, and the Women and Gender Studies program, we hope to begin a discussion of these issues. Below you will find the dates/times and suggested readings for each day. All students, staff and faculty are welcome to attend, and you can come and go as you choose. Bring your brown bag lunch; drinks and cookies will be provided.

September 18, 2018, 12:30-1:30pm: Gender and Power

Readings:

  • Something Has To Give: Maggie Doherty, Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University
  • Power Is Still Too White: Keisha N. Blain, Assistant Professor, History, University of Pittsburgh
  • ‘Well, Girl, What Makes You Think You Can Teach?’: Billie Dziech, Professor of English, University of Cincinnati
  • Seven Theses On Gender And Power: Holly Case, Associate Professor, History, Brown University
  • It’s OK To Lead Like A Woman: Mariko Silver, President, Bennington College
  • Rage Coffee: Martha Rich (image)

October 2, 2018, 12:30-1:30pm: Gender and Power Part 2

Readings:

  • Our Shameful Support Of The Status Quo: Carmen Twillie Ambar, President, Oberlin College
  • We Need Another Hashtag: Wai Chee Dimock, Professor, English and American studies, Yale University
  • Numbers Matter: Mary Beth Norton, Professor, American history, Cornell University
  • Secondhand Smoke From College Presidents: Clayton Spencer, President, Bates College
  • What Affirmative Action Didn’t Change: Claire Bond Potter, Professor, History, New School

October 17, 2018, 12:00-1:00pm: Intersectionality, Motherhood, Contingent Faculty

Readings:

  • Motherhood While Black: Whitney N. Laster Pirtle, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California at Merced
  • How Universities Stigmatize Motherhood: Larissa M. Mercado-Lopez, Associate Professor, Women’s Studies, California State University at Fresno
  • The Academy’s Pink Collar: Alyson Brickey, Adjunct Faculty in English, University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba

November 6, 2018, 12:30-1:30pm: Sexual Harassment

Readings:

  • A Monumental Reckoning: Anne McClintock, Professor, Gender and Sexuality studies, Princeton University
  • ‘I had a Dream about You Last Night – a Sexual Dream’: Martha S. Jones, Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University
  • Good Choice And Bad Excuses: Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Associate Professor, History, New School
  • Don’t Let This Moment Pass: Nannerl O. Keohane, Visiting Scholar at McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It: Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Associate Professor, History, UW Madison
  • The Trouble With Genius: Shahidha Bari, Senior Lecturer in English, Queen Mary University of London
  • Dusting off the Male Gaze: Yuko Shimizu (image)

December 5, 2018, 12:00-1:00pm: What Next?

Readings:

  • We’re Not Even Close: Sharon Marcus, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • Tradition And Its Discontents: Mada Marie Anid, Dean, School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, New York Institute of Technology
  • Presidents Use Your Voice!: Patricia McGuire, President, Trinity Washington University
  • The Perils Of Anonymity: Ru Freeman, teaches creative writing at Columbia University
  • Beyond Gender: Jessica Burstein, Associate Professor of English and Gender, Women and Sexuality, University of Washington