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Let's Talk Human Rights

Learning through Dialogues in 2022 Spring Semester

By Elizabeth Kolb ‘23 and Ashley Walker ‘23

Recent events have highlighted the potential reversal of constitutional abortion rights and increasing racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism in the U.S. This spring, the HRC engaged students, faculty and staff in topical dialogues about reproductive justice and the consistent ethic of life, and about violent extremism. HRC students trained in dialogue facilitation reflect on their experiences and learning during these events in this blog. 

The Consistent Ethic of Life and Reproductive Justice

Elizabeth Kolb ‘23

During the spring semester 2022 as part of my internship for the HRC, I was able to facilitate a dialogue on the topic a “Moving Beyond The Abortion Debate: A Dialogue on Reproductive Justice and the Consistent Ethic of Life.'' Before starting the conversation, three UD women shared their research and perspectives on this topic. 

Dr. Rebecca Whisnant from the Department of Philosophy gave a brief introduction and testimonial on reproductive justice, speaking on how her scholarly work and passions drive her to advocate for women's rights. Dr. Whisnant highlighted how women's rights are at the center of the conversation around reproductive rights. Next, Natalie Eilerman, a senior sociology major, presented her original research on pro-choice Catholics. Her impressive presentation showed the growing population of people who identify with and practice the Catholic faith but support pro-choice legislation. Finally, Dr. Sandra Yocum briefly explained the notion of the consistent ethic of life. The consistent ethic of life opposes acts such as unjust war, capital punishment, and euthanasia; it is also a basis for some Catholics’ opposition to abortion and contraception. 

Facilitating the conversation that followed was very impactful. I appreciated the variety of opinions and experiences that people shared which greatly enriched our dialogue. While discussing the term reproductive justice, participants felt that the term could be vague and defined in many different ways. Some felt hesitant to say they support it because the phrase has taken on specific meanings in previous pro-life vs. pro-choice arguments. The term itself is linked to the idea that all humans have a right to personal bodily autonomy. One student asked in dialogue, “shouldn't everyone deserve justice”, and as a follow-up also, “what does justice mean and look like when applied?”

Another topic of the dialogue was the consistent ethic of life which is a theory of providing the same level of protection throughout all stages of life. While I had never previously been exposed to this theory, I came to deeply value this philosophy: seeing life as a timeline rather than considering people only at the point they are at in one specific moment. Throughout the dialogue, all of us agreed with the concept of a consistent ethic of life; however, there were differing opinions on when that consistent ethic of life starts– at conception, viability or birth. This part of the conversation was difficult because of deep-rooted personal ethics and beliefs. The core goal of the dialogue is to facilitate difficult conversations with different perspectives. 

While views varied, we suggested as a group that an ultimate goal is to lower the number of abortions that occur every year. We want to protect the ethic of life throughout life, not just when it starts. When discussing how exactly life can be protected and the number of abortions lowered, we thought about providing sex education, reforming the adoption and foster care systems, and providing accessible, free birth control. There are ways that we can support the consistent ethic of life by being preventative and educational. While our conversations about protecting lives in other ways were cut short, I am incredibly grateful to have participated in this rich dialogue. 

Flyer Forum on Extremism and Political Violence

Ashley Walker ‘23

Together with other UD students and faculty, I participated in a dialogue on extremism and political violence. As a HRC intern I have been trained in dialogue facilitation but this was my first time participating in a dialogue. The event began with two presentations briefly describing extremism which laid the groundwork for understanding racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism. The Department of Homeland Security distinguishes two categories of violence. The first is domestic terrorism, which refers to violent crimes committed to advance political, religious, social, racial or environmental ideologies. The example given during the presentations for this was the 2019 El Paso, Texas shooting which was a racially motivated hate crime against Latinos. The second category is targeted violence, which refers to any act of violence that is directed toward a specific group but lacks a clear ideological motive. This would refer to premeditated attacks like school shootings. These examples made the difference between the two categories much clearer for me.

After the presentations, we were split into groups and were prompted to reflect on the concepts of extremism and political violence. We quickly dove into discussions about people’s views on the origins of political extremism and exchanged ideas before agreeing that extremist ideas are different from polarization. Polarization refers to the extent to which political parties have opposing opinions. In extremist ideas, once an individual or group feels that their opinion is not being affirmed by the opposing group, they tend to turn inwards, pushing them further into their own beliefs. As their ideological positions harden individuals tend to find niche groups that affirm them. When someone pushes back on their beliefs, the initial response tends to be defensiveness. 

We also explored the role of the bandwagon effect. This refers to the concept that individuals will join a movement for the sake of feeling accepted. An example we discussed was on June 2, 2020, when there was a collective action to protest against racism and police brutality across the United States in response to the George Floyd case. This movement was intended to disrupt normal activities and in this way raise awareness of the racial injustices that were occurring at the time. But the activities quickly devolved into a fad where individuals posted black squares on their social media feeds. In this case, the bandwagon effect drove expressions of advocacy for racial justice, but the effect can also fuel political violence and extremism. 

We also explored why it is so difficult to engage in beneficial dialogue with individuals who hold extremist views. We were asked to reflect on instances where we have had conversations with people who do not agree with us. I thought back to conversations I had during the fall of the 2020 Presidential Election and recalled how a difference in opinions with my peers quickly devolved into a heated confrontation. After sharing this, I was struck by the responses from my dialogue partners, which made me reconsider how I will approach my next disagreement. 

A key insight that was shared was that the goal of such conversations should be to understand why an individual thinks the way they do, and not to try to change their minds. By truly listening to your peers, you may be able to learn something new. These types of conversations are beneficial because they are not trying to create agreement but rather to promote new ways of thinking. 

In reflecting on this new perspective, I realized that this approach has been incredibly difficult for me in the past because I tend to be stubborn in my views, which often leads to an even more polarized conversation. When I shared this with the group, the response was to seek to reaffirm the individual rather than their ideology or views. This idea took me aback because this is not something I generally do. It occurred to me that we can have discussions where we are not attributing our differences in opinion to the character of the person we are talking with. It is important rather to find the things, activities, hobbies, values, or morals that you do agree on, and go from there. I came to appreciate that discussion is the first step in preventing extremist views from taking shape. My advice to others coming out of this dialogue would be to consider taking small steps like inviting your peers to discuss your differences, challenge your way of thinking, and try to get more involved in activism in your community. 

Elizabeth Kolb is a rising senior pursuing an international studies major with a concentration in global migration and economic development as well as a certificate in TESOL education. She has been working as an intern with the HRC as well as the African Refugee Development Center.

Ashley is a rising senior pursuing a degree in communication with a concentration in management and a minor in public relations. She has been working with the HRC as a marketing and communications intern and is passionate about environmental justice, women’s rights, and advocacy for racial equity.

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