Difficult Conversations in the College Classroom Webinar

March 15, 2024

In March, the Institute for Citizens & Scholars hosted an intergenerational panel of Fellows for a virtual conversation on how to promote active listening, continuous learning, and dialogue across difference in the college classroom. Moderated by Aukeem Ballard, 2011 WW-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the UC-Berkeley School of Education, the discussion featured community-engaged, emerging young leaders and seasoned college professors sharing their perspectives on campus conversations.

This Fellow-to-Fellow exchange also embodied the collaborative spirit of diverse talent and ideas within the Citizens & Scholars network. In addition, it highlighted the importance of the College Presidents for Civic Preparedness consortium in advancing free expression, civil discourse, and critical inquiry in higher education. Some of the themes that emerged from the conversation:

  • Navigating controversial discussions and free expression on campus
  • The importance of setting norms and “rules of engagement” in the classroom
  • The value of intellectual curiosity and a liberal arts education
  • Higher education’s central role in a democracy

Key Perspectives

“I’m a political science major and one of the classes I took was on crime measurement. [My professor] asked really thought-provoking questions and in the end, my perspective on gun violence did shift because of that class. It was a pretty profound and impactful moment in my thinking. The reason it worked so well was because my professor used data and analytics and logic and allowed us to shout out ideas and pick them apart. He didn’t just shoot them down, he said, ‘Hey, this is why I think that your idea could be revised because of this data.’ And I thought that was really special.”

-Kilan White, 2023 Civic Spring Fellow and University of Arizona Sophomore

“Scaffolding and work that goes into genuine intellectual engagement is really important. These are things that need to be learned and […] they translate beautifully into citizenship skills. Perhaps the fact that we have not been as attentive to those skills as we ought to have been on college and university campuses helps explain – [though] it’s not the whole story by any means – some of the impoverishment of our public discourse.”

-Sarah E. Igo, 1995 Mellon Fellow in the Humanities, Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Andrew Jackson Chair in American History at Vanderbilt University

“I think free speech on a college campus means not having to perfect everything you say before you say it. It means just being able to have that human instinct of just thinking something and saying it out loud without fear of how you’re going to be perceived afterwards. It’s also the community aspect of people not immediately judging you based on what you say and people receiving what you say [knowing that] this is not a solidified thought or this is not a thought that represents who you are.”

-Sophia Awuzie, 2023 Civic Spring Fellow, Stanford University Freshman

“I think we should think about free speech as being the floor and not the ceiling. [W]e spend way too much time talking about formal restrictions on free speech and not enough time about what we do with speech once it’s said.”

Andrew Perrin, 2000 Newcombe Fellow, SNF Agora Institute Professor of Sociology and Chair at Johns Hopkins University

From the Conversation


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