Reaffirming Values: Campus Dialogue and Discourse

September 2, 2016

Dear Brown Students, Faculty and Staff,

I am writing to invite you to participate in a campus-wide project, “Reaffirming University Values: Campus Dialogue and Discourse,” which will take place over this academic year. Through a series of lectures and workshops, we will consider how to cultivate an environment in which we, as a community, can discuss conflicting values and controversial issues in constructive and engaging ways. At the end of this letter is a preliminary list of programming we have scheduled.

Central to Brown University’s mission of serving the community, the nation, and the world is our commitment to “discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry.”[i] In fulfillment of this mission, Brown seeks to ensure a vibrant and rigorous intellectual environment that advances knowledge through teaching, research and engagement across the disciplines, both inside and outside of the classroom. The ongoing quest to deepen our understanding of the world and to identify solutions to society’s most pressing problems demands intense and continuous inquiry, shaping ideas and refining approaches by inviting a range of perspectives and challenges. To these ends, active engagement through dialogue is critical to our progress as a University.

The role of dialogue on campuses and in public life more broadly has become of increasing concern in recent years. The ways in which we talk across difference have become as important as the substance of the issues we discuss, especially the divisive ones. Conversations about serious issues are too often characterized as polarizing, and occur in a highly charged, rancorous atmosphere where speakers often anticipate being criticized, ridiculed or “called out.” Those who are uncertain or uncomfortable often remain silent or are reluctant to engage.[ii] We must work to empower all individuals to share their viewpoints, even if it makes some of us, at times, feel uncomfortable. Creating an environment in which productive dialogue occurs is essential for our University: It brings together people from across the political and social spectrums and from a range of experiences to share and engage a wide variety of views on the challenges facing our society. This is how we learn from one another and strengthen our community.

Brown has, in the recent past, modeled this deliberate approach to campus dialogue and learning to address difficult issues and promote truth and justice. The important work of the 2003 Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice is an illustration of this approach. In the year ahead, we will again foster an environment of productive, if occasionally uneasy, engagement with various stakeholders whose commitments, values, and identities may conflict, especially around controversial or potentially divisive issues.

The “Reaffirming University Values” project, sponsored by the Offices of the President and Provost, will include lectures, panel discussions, and workshops that will draw on the use of dialogue to frame campus conversations, build community, and encourage effective speaking and listening. Our purpose is to foster productive conversation that acknowledges the occasionally conflicting values each member of a community may hold at a given time, allowing each participant to examine and put forward the values underlying their views. At the core of these efforts is a robust recognition of our fundamental commitment, as an institution of higher education, to learning—on the part of students, faculty, and staff.

Our success in these endeavors rests on the commitment of members of our community to this approach. At the heart of our University is a scholarly approach that requires us both to challenge others, and be challenged ourselves, in order to promote a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting our society.

What follows below is a preliminary list of programming we have scheduled. Additional opportunities will be developed in collaboration with other academic departments and centers, and detailed information about the exact times and locations of these events will be shared early in the academic year. I hope you will take part.

Sincerely,

Richard M. Locke
Provost

Fall 2016

October 11, 2016, 4:00 pm

“A Note from the Margin: The Unsafe Spaces of Democracy”
Jelani Cobb, Professor of Journalism, Columbia University School of Journalism, and staff writer for The New Yorker

October 28, 2016

One Day Workshop on Personal Narrative and Community Values
Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard

November 14, 2016

“Freedom of Speech in the University”
Robert C. Post, Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, Yale University

Weekly

Andre Willis, Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Professor of History and Religion, and the Division of Campus Life will collaborate on a weekly dinner series during the fall semester bringing together 12-15 students active and engaged in advancing social justice. The intention is to build community by engaging in dialogue and sharing and listening to one another’s personal stories.

Spring 2017

February 3, 2017

“Free Speech on Campus”
Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago

 

Notes:

[i] Brown University mission statement.

[ii] Maggie Herzig and Laura Chasin. Fostering Dialogue Across Divides, Public Conversations Project, (2006), page 5. (We would like to thank Professor Nancy Khalek for bringing this organization to our attention and for her help in framing this initiative.)