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A recent biannual forum at Southern Utah University focused on COVID-19 or the Commission on Violent Interactions in Democracy. Panelists from the faculty, including a mediator, discussed the importance of having civil conversations. The event aimed to discuss how people can use civil discourse forums to encourage dialogue between different viewpoints.
Discussion Guidelines for Civil Discourse Forums
The best way to avoid escalating a debate is to follow discussion guidelines. These guidelines encourage de-escalation and refrain from labeling or putting someone on the defensive. They also promote the use of respectful language and address the impact of a statement. Regardless of your viewpoint, be courteous and respectful of other forum members.
Online spaces are challenging social environments. While traditional face-to-face interaction can create an open and respectful environment, online interactions can lead to a polarized attitude. It is much easier to dismiss alternative viewpoints in text-based interactions. Moreover, online conversations are less satisfying than face-to-face interactions, often resulting in fewer attitudes being changed.
For example, the University of New Hampshire forum recently discussed racial tension and the Cinco de Mayo controversy. However, the discussions left many participants feeling unheard. Fortunately, Renee Heath, who co-founded UNH’s first Civil Discourse Lab, is helping to create a more constructive atmosphere for civil dialogue.
To engage in civil discourse, participants must be prepared to educate others on different views. This requires patience, mental effort, and time. Unfortunately, many people may find this frustrating. Furthermore, some people may not be willing to engage in civil discourse with them.
Examples of Civil Discourse Forums
There are several examples of civil discourse forums on college campuses. The first was hosted by Southern Utah University and focused on the recent COVID-19 conference. At this forum, faculty members discussed the importance of civil discourse. The second one featured a panel of seven faculty members, including a mediator. The participants respected each other’s perspectives and differences in both examples.
A third example is the IOP Fellows Forum, a group of academics holding regular public policy discussions. Past conversations have included “IOP Fellows Unpack Politics” and “Catalyzing Civil Discourse.” Other events have featured discussion groups focused on dialogue and debate. One such conversation drew two prominent figures in the field of public philosophy and law: Robert George, a Harvard professor, and Cornel West, the McCormick Professor of Law at Princeton. The two philosophers are admirers of each other, and their conversation was titled “Free Speech, Open Minds, and the Pursuit of Truth.”
Understanding individual users’ perspectives are vital to improving civil discourse online. For example, people’s backgrounds, ages, and educational levels can significantly affect their online experiences. In addition, many individuals are reluctant to consider competing for viewpoints online. Moreover, research suggests that online opposing arguments produce fewer attitudes than face-to-face conversations. Furthermore, people tend to dismiss different views easier in text-based online conversations than in face-to-face interactions.
Guidelines for Engaging in Civil Discourse
While engaging in civil discourse forums is integral to university life, students must follow the appropriate rules. These guidelines can help prevent unnecessary arguments and conflict in the classroom. Furthermore, these guidelines encourage students to avoid using the wrong language, which can lead to negative consequences. In addition to ensuring that everyone participates in a productive discussion, these guidelines encourage students to avoid political rhetoric.
When participating in forums, make sure that you follow the following rules: listen to the other side before speaking, avoid using derogatory gestures and facial expressions, and do not check out of the discussion. When participating in a debate, remember to differentiate between opinions and facts. When debating, try to listen to what the other side says and use as much evidence as possible to support your points of view.
When engaging in online forums, it is essential to understand your audience. Different individuals have different backgrounds, and online discussion styles vary from one to the next. For example, people’s educational levels, cultural backgrounds, and ages are all factors that influence their responses. The younger generation of Americans tends to dominate online discussions. These individuals, known as Millennials, represent a growing political voice and are at the forefront of community action.
While civil discourse can be heated, it can be a valuable way to address problems within a community. For example, when students are concerned about their fellow students or the university, they can approach a University official for redress. The Dean of Students, for example, will seek to understand the issue and provide remediation if appropriate.