KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Discussions hosted this fall by Western Michigan University's We Talk group are aimed at fostering a campus culture of responsible and respectful civic, social, political and policy engagement. The series includes five virtual, interactive presentations and a campus read of Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion."
Visit the We Talk website for more information, to access program links and sign up for the campus read virtual chats.
We Talk fall programming will allow students, faculty and staff to:
- Get the facts on what constitutes free speech rights and responsibilities on and off campus.
- Join the discussion with Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha whose research and advocacy helped end the city’s use of corrosive river water in 2015.
- Learn how students can collaborate to advocate for positive change on campus.
- Hear a keynote speaker on the history of women of color and their political influence as it relates to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
- Consider why it is worth listening to people you disagree with and learn tips for engaging in difficult conversations.
"It is essential that we become comfortable with being uncomfortable in conversation and learning settings. We should hone the skills needed to listen, learn and challenge differing viewpoints in a respectful way," explains Jeff Breneman, WMU's vice president for government relations. "Recognizing the divisiveness negatively impacting our society, a team of us on campus came together to consider: How do we lower the temperature and build a campus culture supporting viewpoint diversity? How can we use the academic environment to think about how we talk to each other?"
The Western Student Association is lending its support to the series as leaders and panelists, including Emma Baratta, vice president for WSA political affairs.
"In these times, virtually everything that people base their beliefs on is tied to their identity," says Baratta, a third-year student studying international and comparative politics and Spanish. "This can make it difficult to discuss hard topics or identity politics without attacking the other person because of who they are. Being able to discuss difficult topics that people passionately disagree on in a productive way is an incredibly valuable life skill and one that cannot always be taught in a classroom."
Schedule of events
- "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt, campus read academic year program, ongoing. Contact: Jennifer Townsend.
- "The Realities of Free Speech," interactive virtual presented by Jessica Swartz, WMU deputy general counsel, 4 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24.
- "Making the Case for Public Health: From Flint to COVID-19," Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative and author of "What the Eyes Don't See," 7 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30. Hosted by Michigan Humanities Great Michigan Read, the Offices of Government Relations and Community Partnerships, Portage District Library, the Merze Tate Explorers and Half Century Book Club. Contact: Margaret von Steinen. Register.
- "Social Justice at WMU: Past, Present and Future," student-led panel discussion including the Western Student Association and other WMU registered student organizations, 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1. Contact: Emma Baratta, WSA vice president for political affairs, and Dalia Sanchez, WSA vice president for diversity and inclusion.
- "Women of Color and Political Influence," 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 8. Keynote address by Dr. Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins, author of the book "The Untold Story of Women of Color in the League of Women Voters." Hosted by WMU We Vote and the League of Women Voters of the Kalamazoo Area. Contact: Dr. Denise Keele.
- "Lean Into Difficult Conversations," TED Talk featuring Zachary Wood, a national speaker who probes "Why it's worth listening to people you disagree with," with breakout discussions to follow, 4 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 14. Access the program link 15 minutes prior to the presentation.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.