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Courageous conversations

Courageous conversations

Eric F. Spina June 04, 2018

As free-speech battles play out on college campuses, in the public square and on social media, some may view engaging in respectful, civil dialogue and carefully listening to opposing viewpoints as a lost art.

I would say we’re reclaiming it at the University of Dayton, but, truthfully, it’s always been part of our fabric. It’s certainly a skill graduates need in today’s complex world.

President Eric SpinaThe Marianists, many of whom live among the students in the neighborhoods, know that better than anyone else. They teach us daily how to value the dignity of every person.

Our communication professors who teach a nationally significant Communication 100 course to all undergraduates know that, too. (See story, Page 36.) In the class, students learn how to have meaningful conversations with others who hold different perspectives — all with the goal of understanding each other better.

Alumnus Timothy Shaffer ’06, who is assistant director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State and recently edited a book about the use of dialogue and deliberation, also knows that. As a UD graduate student, he created a class in deliberation that found its way to the program at the Stander Symposium and helped launch his life’s work.

And I know that. When I read this issue’s “Let’s Talk” feature story, I’m heartened by the myriad ways we bring our students together to converse (which implies both speaking and listening) and build bridges across differences. We’re even considering developing a dialogue landing zone in Roesch Library, providing space for conversations on tough issues.

Last year, when a controversy erupted on campus over a student art project, the Student Government Association immediately organized a discussion. As I sat in the back of the room and listened to the challenging but respectful conversation, I grew more proud of our students by the minute. Rather than talking at each other, they engaged in dialogue — with respect, thoughtfulness and a desire to understand another person’s point of view. As a campus community, we didn’t shy away from having a difficult conversation.

The Marianists call that “staying at the table.” I call it courageous conversations.

It’s just what our world needs.