Letter-to-the-Editor: The Consortium for Constructive Dialog

Letter from members of the Consortium for Constructive Dialog

We, the founding members of the Consortium for Constructive Dialog, believe in the power of dialog to change minds and build community. We believe that constructive dialog has been lacking in the last year. Our mission is to foster a respect for constructive discourse and a tolerance for differing viewpoints at Swarthmore College. We, as members of the Swarthmore community, should not only expect respect for our own viewpoints, but also actively seek to understand the viewpoints of others, even those with whom we vehemently disagree.

Our aim is to foster much-needed unity between the members of the Swarthmore community through respectful dialog. We acknowledge that each and every one of us is a human being with insecurities, ignorance, and biases, but seek to overcome them.

Therefore, we extend an invitation to the campus community to bi-weekly gatherings on Monday evenings at 7PM to discuss pertinent issues on campus. Our first discussion shall be on the subject of the College’s Interim Sexual Assault Policies this coming Monday, September 23rd. Due to the nature of the discussion we are having, potentially triggering topics may arise. All members of the community are welcome and encouraged to attend, especially those whose views are often underrepresented at Swarthmore. We want to provide a forum for community members to have the discussion that has been lacking here. It is our hope that this space is safe, calm, and respectful for all people and their ideas. This respect is given freely to all, regardless of their background. In this space, everyone represents themselves as an individual, not a broader group or movement.

We envision a Swarthmore in which dialogue is commonplace–not just constructive but spirited, loving, and respectful.

We hope you will join us.

Signed,


Isabel Knight

Andrew Early/Taylor

Alexander Simms


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5 comments

  1. 0
    triggering? says:

    Although your aims are surely admirable, in the future do you think you can not chalk “SEXUAL ASSAULT” in unavoidably large letters in front of Sharples.
    It’s just not really what I need to see when I’m trying to get through the day.

  2. 0
    Hope Brinn '15 and Allison Hrabar '16 says:

    Hi Isabel, Alexander, and Andrew,

    We’ve been thinking a lot about this op-ed today and we have a couple requests for clarification if that’s possible.

    The first being, what actually do you mean by constructive dialogue? To you, what does a constructive dialogue look like and in what ways was it absent last year?

    What does it mean to respect a viewpoint? Are there ever times in which a viewpoint is not worthy of respect?

    When you say that everyone represents themselves as an individual and not as part of a broader group, what do you mean? How is that possible?

    How are we going to make sure that the space is safe? What does it mean to have a safe space? Is a safe space possible when discussing something like sexual assault?

    Lastly, where is this constructive dialogue taking place?

    Sincerely,

    Hope Brinn ’15 and Allison Hrabar ’16

    1. 0
      Isabel Knight '16, Alexander Simms '16, and Andrew Taylor '16 says:

      Hope, Allison, and “Student” – we apologize for the wait, but the three of us wanted to get together to make sure our answers really reflect what each of us thinks.

      First off – our first meeting will be held at 7:00 Monday (tomorrow) in the Scheuer Room in Kohlberg.

      Now, to answer your questions –

      The first being, what actually do you mean by constructive dialogue? To you, what does a constructive dialogue look like and in what ways was it absent last year?

      By constructive dialog, we mean a dialog in which participants talk TO each other instead of past each other. A constructive dialog is one in which active listening is taking place and participants are making a sincere attempt to understand where everyone is coming from. We think these elements, and other elements we describe in our letter above were lacking last spring. We’re modeling these discussions after the teach-ins last year, because we thought those were really helpful and should take place on a more regular basis.

      The event last year that prompted the three of us to begin discussing the need for a group like this was the Board of Managers meeting takeover. Regardless of our views on what the board was going to say, it was incredibly destructive to prevent them from saying it, and then to follow that up with the silencing of our fellow students was even more destructive. We draw our name from one of the signs that we saw during the takeover: “Fuck your constructive dialog.” We disagree with this mentality. We did, and still do, believe in the power of discourse to effect change of hearts, minds, and institutions.

      What does it mean to respect a viewpoint? Are there ever times in which a viewpoint is not worthy of respect?

      When we use language along the lines of “respect for viewpoints,” what we mean is that each person has a right to express their viewpoint, and that all viewpoints are to be held to the same standard of critique; that is to say that nobody’s opinion can simply be dismissed with “You’re wrong.” If somebody’s opinion truly is wrong, we hope that it should not be too difficult to explain to them what we find wrong with their opinion.

      When you say that everyone represents themselves as an individual and not as part of a broader group, what do you mean? How is that possible?

      When we say we would like people to come and represent themselves as an individual, we mean that those participating in the discussion are representing their own viewpoint and not those of a wider group. For example, despite the fact that one may be a frat member or a female or a survivor, we think it is perfectly fine to say “This is an important part of my identity which has helped me to inform my decisions,” but we can’t try to speak for all frat members or all women or all survivors. Likewise, if there is a group a participant is not a part of, making generalizations about what ALL members of that group may or may not think is also not helpful in our opinion. Essentially, we would like to prevent people from taking their individual experiences as representative of a group.

      How are we going to make sure that the space is safe? What does it mean to have a safe space? Is a safe space possible when discussing something like sexual assault?

      At no point in our letter do we make the claim that this will be a “safe space”, because although it’s very necessary to have safe spaces on campus, making this sort of discussion into a safe space would be very difficult, if not outright impossible.

      We do, however, hope that the space will be safe, but in a different sense of the word than what is meant by “safe space”. When we say that “It is our hope that this space is safe,” we envision a space in which people feel free to speak their opinions and share their experiences without feeling personally attacked. Since we can’t possibly foresee and prevent all the possible ways in anyone may feel hurt by what another says, it’s obviously not going to be perfect, but we hope that all participants in this discussion will assume good faith.

      On a more technical note, we would like to point out that this is not a confidential space. Since it is open to the entire community, staff, faculty, and required reporters are welcome to attend.

      Lastly, where is this constructive dialogue taking place?

      Again, this is taking place in the Scheuer Room. Everyone is encouraged to attend, and we would like to extend a personal invitation to the both of you. At the beginning and the end of the discussion period, we plan to shift the topic to the organization itself: setting ground rules at the beginning and discussing how to make future discussions better at the end.

      We hope these responses were helpful, and if you have any further questions, please ask them! Alternately, you can ask them at the meeting on Monday at 7 in the Scheuer Room.

      Sincerely,
      Isabel, Alex, and Andrew

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