Hard conversations on campus | Duke Today

Summer reading of civil discourse

Participants in Duke’s Civil Discourse seminar will receive a list of suggested readings representing a variety of perspectives, including:

* Derisa Grant‘About difficult conversations’
* Amy Aldridge Sanford“Confrontation and avoidance: alternatives to civil discourse”
* William Deresiewicz“About political correctness”
* Amna Khalid and Jeff Snyder, “Yes, DEI can erode free speech. Let’s not pretend otherwise”

“I think the work of civil debate is made more relevant, but also more difficult, by what is happening in Israel,” says Rose. “When war breaks out, the human reflex is often to say, ‘Civil discourse on campus is for after this has been settled.’ Right now we have to fight for our survival, period. There is an existential threat before us.” Both parties can feel this way.”

This partly explains why the number of seminar participants grew from twenty and one sessions in the first year to forty and two sessions this summer.

Participants in this year’s first session in May and the next from 10 to 12 June come from a very diverse mix of schools.

Teachers from major state schools, including UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State and Arizona State, and smaller private schools such as Brown, Elon and Dartmouth, are gathering behind closed doors at Duke. Rose says the privacy provides a safer environment that is more conducive to sharing their experiences and concerns. (The seminars are funded by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.)

David Skarbek, professor of political science and political economy at Brown, attended the session last month.

“My university generally does excellent work in this area and related issues, but given the extent to which the world is facing pressing issues, I thought it would be a good idea to take these values, standards and practices to the next level” , Skarbek said.

“The key to this is combining engaging and serious readings from different perspectives, cultivating the practices and habits of mind that embrace civil discourse and freedom of expression, and creating a community of scholarly students for engaged students. ”

A survey conducted among more than 55,000 students from more than 250 colleges in the first half of 2023 shows why promoting social debate is crucial for improving the campus environment.

More than half of students surveyed by College Pulse said they worry about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstood what they said or did. Twenty percent say they often self-censor, while 26% say they feel pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes.

Elizabeth Corey, an associate professor of political science at Baylor University, said she attended a seminar at Duke in 2023 because of a continued interest in facilitating discourse across political boundaries.

“What we learned at the seminar last summer was the sense that this is an initiative that cannot be repeated often enough; The need is enormous.”

Elizabeth Cory, professor of political science at Baylor University

“Our campus, Baylor, is not particularly polarized, but I have seen the public conversation degenerate on other campuses and in the media and felt it was my job to model something different for my own students,” said Corey, who attended with her husband David, also a professor of political science at Baylor.

They co-taught a course this past spring semester titled “The Toughest Issues of Our Time: A Course in Political Philosophy and Civil Discourse.” Using Rose’s syllabus as a model, the course addressed immigration, Israel/Palestine, gender identity, and affirmative action.

“What we learned at the seminar last summer was the sense that this is an initiative that cannot be repeated often enough; The need is enormous,” she says. “We were encouraged by the diversity of participants who came from Ivy League schools, large state colleges, community colleges and Christian schools.

“I’m sure we don’t all think alike, but we all had a shared commitment to promoting what I believe is the central feature of academic life: conversation across differences.”

The Coreys are now involved in a Baylor civil discourse initiative started by another colleague.

During the school year, Rose leads the Civil Discourse Project, which sponsors courses, events and scholarships that promote civil discourse both inside and outside the classroom.

Another effort to promote civil debate on Duke’s campus is the Provost Initiative on the Middle East. Provost Alec Gallimore launched the program in February in response to heated debates on campus about the war between Israel and Hamas.

The program, which will continue this fall, brought in guest speakers and offered programming on the region to create space and opportunities “for rigorous and respectful debate that welcomes diverse perspectives on current and past conflicts in the region.”

If the war between Israel and Hamas continues into the fall, Rose expects the heated debates could become even worse.

“That’s a test for our community,” he said, “whether or not we can have a civil conversation about it.”