In light of the rather contentious atmosphere surrounding political, social and other such matters as of late, UConn president Susan Herbst has created a committee to encourage students’ free, but also careful, speech. Considering that certain influential Americans breed inarticulateness, ignorance and like-mindedness, the President’s Committee on Civil Discourse and Dialogue plays an especially vital role in fostering intelligent, considerate expression of diverse ideas and viewpoints.
At the outset of her committee’s development, Herbst envisioned “a permanent, effective strategy to further enhance a climate at UConn that fosters healthy argument, debate and dialogue – especially among those with differing views, beliefs, experiences and/or philosophies.” After all, UConn, along with other universities and institutions nationwide, accumulates people with wide-ranging backgrounds and perspectives; thus communication among members of a multicultural population is a natural consequence of civilization. As certain university courses challenge students’ preconceived notions and invite deep, dynamic discussion of unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable topics, so can typical interaction with other multifaceted individuals. Stifling one’s passionate, free expression certainly isn’t ideal, but UConn must also ensure that its students and faculty don’t offend their peers, intentionally or not, with their outspokenness.
Since its inception, the committee has proposed and integrated several proactive measures in order to carry out its mission effectively. For example, UConn’s virtually mandatory First-Year Experience (FYE) courses will mold freshmen’s interpersonal communication skills. A senior faculty member will also keep the committee’s priorities in check and all UConn community members will be eligible for campus-wide awards that acknowledge instances of proper civil discourse. Furthermore, the first in a series of informative dinner events designed to improve engagement in tense conversations will take place for students and faculty on Nov. 1 (more substantial information is available here). Lastly, the committee is in the process of “updating the university’s academic mission statement (which is distinct from the University’s purpose outlined in state statute) to reflect that part of that mission includes ‘exchanging ideas in a manner that fosters a climate of mutual respect.’”
Ultimately, the President’s Committee on Civil Discourse and Dialogue should mollify any and all hostile members of UConn’s community (and hopefully also others of its ilk). Regardless of whatever belief systems they may follow, students and faculty alike must learn to at least tolerate and respect, if not wholeheartedly agree with and befriend, those with different mindsets from their own, thus fortifying their interpersonal abilities and relationships.