Indiana University promotes discussion on divisive subjects

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Indiana University debate coach Brian DeLong was supposed to be talking about President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration speech Wednesday afternoon.

He did, but then a question forced him to address a much broader topic: How can people break out of their bubbles and communicate across partisan lines?

DeLong admits this is something he struggles with.

"I do think that we have failed in being willing to engage in conversations that can be painful," he said.

DeLong was leading one of several events planned this semester to facilitate those types of conversations. This particular event was the first installment of White House Wednesdays, a weekly series of programs in which IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty members as well as guest experts lead 45-minute discussions of developments in Washington and the new administration.

IU Provost Lauren Robel has put White House Wednesdays and other similar events under the umbrella of Engaged Conversations. In a campus-wide email sent out Tuesday, Robel stressed the need to discuss important policy decisions that will be made following one of the most divisive presidential elections in U.S. history.

"As citizens, we have a duty to engage thoughtfully with both the policy choices, and the methods of political engagement, that face our country in the years ahead," Robel said in the email.

The schools and centers within IU have a number of events planned this semester that will provide opportunities for that type of engagement. Robel encouraged members of the IU community to participate in events such as the next Hot Topics discussion on fake news and media literacy. Hot Topics is a series of events the provost's office began last year to address issues Robel described as generating significant heat, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and law enforcement. For the Hot Topics discussion on fake news, IU Media School faculty will join New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Politifact's Caryn Baird for a workshop on Feb. 9 in the Student Building.

Other Engaged Conversations include a series from the IU School of Education called "What is Public Education and Why Does It Matter?" The series began Wednesday with a teach-in and discussion of education policy under the Trump Administration.

White House Wednesdays provide an opportunity for public and environmental affairs students to talk with faculty about how the new administration will affect their careers.

"There's so much going on so fast," said Jim Hanchett, director of marketing and communication at SPEA. "I'm not sure four or eight years ago there was as much need, because the change didn't seem as dramatic."

Trump has made dramatic and controversial promises on the campaign trail that have elicited strong emotions from voters. The president-elect has become such a divisive figure, some people have decided to avoid talking about politics with people who might share a different viewpoint. DeLong said he's wrestled with taking that approach himself.

"Do I take that opportunity in order to try to change somebody's mind?" he said. "Do I try to inform them, make them better decision makers?"

Meredith Cantey, a first-year graduate student studying government management, said she hasn't seen many productive discussions of divisive issues on social media, but an event such as White House Wednesdays might prove to be a more effective avenue.

"I don't think that it's going to change anyone's political affiliation," she said. "If you're a Democrat before, I don't think coming to these discussions is going to turn you into a Republican or vice versa, but I do think that's it's a healthy environment to discuss what people might be more concerned about."


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times,


Information from: The Herald Times,

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