"What Is Your America?" Community Conversation Encourages Civil Discourse


BTV Reporter: Cassidi Sterrett

(Textual story: Caroline Weishaar - )

SHC Student Media

Spring Hill College
Mobile, AL

Spring Hill College “absolutely supports the place for civil discourse," a speaker told participants in the What is your America Community Conversation on Oct. 5 in Leblanc.

“It’s part of our mission, it’s in our mission," explained speaker Bob Stewart, vice president of Enrollment Services, as he introduced Spring Hill College’s fourth community conversation to a room of 120 students and faculty discussion facilitators. Stewart said the table conversations are meant to encourage respectful dialogue about current event issues in the media. During a conversation, one facilitator sits with a group of up to 12 students who respond to open ended questions related to a certain topic and informational video.

The discussions were started last year by the student affairs office and political science professor, Dr. Kathleen Orange, after an influx of racially driven police shootings. Orange said, “the whole aim is to try to overcome the severe divisions we are experiencing in American society”. Orange said she typically looks at the news to see what topic of conversation would be appropriate.

The conversation this month highlighted the question “What is your America”. The event started with a short video and a trigger warning. The video, created by student Samm Brown and communication arts professor, Johnny Stevens highlighted the recent positive and negative events occurring around America. It showed uplifting flood rescues and upsetting violent protests. After the video, table facilitators began to ask open ended questions and participants engaged in respectful debate.

Psychology professor Dr. Chelsea Greer led a table of eight students from mixed races, genders and backgrounds. Greer claimed to be very passionate about finding ways to form a more inclusive America. She said that the issues of race relations being talked about on TV are nothing new. “People like to think feelings aren’t still there”, Greer said. She discussed with her small group ways all races can work towards a more inclusive America.

Throughout the event, many revealed ways they had already worked towards a better America. Fr. Gregory Lucy S.J., Chancellor of Spring Hill College, sat at Greer’s table and was an avid part of the conversation. Fr. Lucy recalled a time during his younger days as a Jesuit priest when he participated in a sit in. Many other participants at the table had also engaged in similar forms of non-violent protests and brainstormed other ways they could inspire change.

Throughout all of the discussion, the large, bright room remained quite calm despite the heavy topics. All of the tables encouraged awkward silences in between comments in order to allow the next student to fully process their thoughts. Many came ready to discuss and jumped right in the conversation, while others only became involved towards the end once they were comfortable. The community conversation allowed room for both of these personality types to co-exist in the discussion.

After the discussion, Orange recalled hearing an African American student saying, that in her America things aren’t getting better. Orange’s response was that the conversation “doesn’t stop today”. She claimed, “we need to keep talking about this” and “find ways to tone down, but open up the conversation”. Along with this, many students from Greer’s table agreed that the conversation was far from over. They said a simple progressive action could be inviting other schools to attend Spring Hill’s conversations in order to hear more opinions.

The event closed with a prayer from campus minister, Fr. Rafael Baylon S.J. Baylon prayed for all those discriminated against and asked for the courage to speak the inconvenient truth. He finished by encouraging students to shine their light where there is darkness.

(Textual story: Caroline Weishaar - )

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