Colleges have a responsibility to create environments where curious students can explore and grow. Heterodox Academy has guided this effort by drawing attention to the need for increasing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in academia. Now it’s up to us to do the work.
In 2017 I worked with a small group of students at Linn-Benton Community College to create the LBCC Civil Discourse Club (HxA’s 2019 Outstanding Student Group). Since our inception, we have successfully created numerous spaces on our campus for individuals to engage with diverse viewpoints in an open and constructive manner.
We haven’t been able to do this alone, however. At LBCC, our president and his team have been extremely supportive of our club’s efforts. College leadership has the ability to make a huge difference in shaping a campus climate. I urge all administrators to consider the ways they can play a similarly positive role on their respective campuses.
Our college’s internal efforts have been phenomenal. Nevertheless, the LBCC Civil Discourse Club’s successes would not have been possible without our external partners and the resources they have generously offered. These include:
Our club was founded during the midst of a major campus controversy involving a provocative artwork series (see HxA blog post). At the time, many campus community members were concerned about threats to academic freedom and free speech. With the help of FIRE, a team of faculty members and administrators updated our board policies that strengthened and affirmed our college’s dedication to free expression. (see here and here).
LBCC President, Dr. Greg Hamann, noted in his January 2018 President’s Report that: “We and our students cannot reap the full potential benefits of diversity if we avoid or are otherwise unable to speak, listen, and learn across the differences that our diversity represents.” In order to assess our student body’s diversity and identify which students self-censor themselves about what topics and why, our college’s institutional research department administered HxA’s CES. The quantitative and qualitative data we collected has sparked great interest and thoughtful discussions on our campus (see our survey’s summary). It has also helped generate support for events and activities centered around viewpoint diversity and the promotion of civil discourse.
Creating a student club which “aims to promote dialogue that enhances understanding between individuals with diverse perspectives in an open and respectful environment” is a daunting endeavor. Fortunately, there is a national organization ready to help. BridgeUSA has provided our club with indispensable guidance and resources. The organization’s leadership assists students with chapter development, offers individualized coaching, and connects students with tools that can be used to host events and facilitate activities. The annual Bridge Summit provides leadership training, networking opportunities, and fellowship with students from universities including UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, and Arizona State.
Trust and rapport are essential for creating environments where civil discourse can flourish. FreeIC helps foster both. Our club first learned about FreeIC at the 2018 BridgeUSA Summit in Dallas, TX. We quickly learned that it is a simple and effective activity for facilitating thoughtful dialogue and building relationships (see LBCC Civil Discourse Club founding member Anthony Lusardi’s blog post for more). FreeIC can be used on and off campus; we enjoy using FreeIC at LBCC events like Welcome Day and College Night as well as at our local farmers’ markets. It also provides an excellent developmental experience. As a Communication instructor, I’ve particularly enjoyed watching students cultivate the skills I teach in class during their FreeIC interactions.
Concrete examples of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement are vital for helping students put these concepts into practice. The Village Square’s Respect + Rebellion series offers a number of ideologically diverse speaking pairs who model the behaviors our club is aiming to promote. Last year, our college hosted two Respect + Rebellion pairs: Red Mom + Blue Mom, and John + Ciaran from the organization, Better Angels. Both events were highly attended and interactive. Data collected from audience members indicated an overwhelmingly positive response and a desire for more divergent speaking pairs—many audience members also expressed a desire for additional opportunities to engage one another.
There is no universal approach for creating a heterodox campus. Every college is unique and has its own set of challenges and opportunities.
However, there are organizations and resources available to help YOU make progress on your campus. Most are available at no, or for a very reasonable, cost. All that’s required is a willing scholar who has a little bit of courage and a deep passion for helping their campus thrive.
There are many students at your college who need you to be that scholar. Will you step up and do the work?