Talking Together series promotes discussion, unity
A collaboration among four campus partners hopes to foster dialogue and encourage civil discourse amid opposing viewpoints.
The Talking Together initiative, a yearlong series of discussions and workshops, kicked off September 21 at the Alumni House with affirming words from President Philomena V. Mantella.
“We need a sense of personal responsibility to civility and the way we approach each other with curiosity and interest. A culture of educational equity shifting toward a culture of conversation is a poignant way to advance GVSU’s commitment to equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging,” Mantella said.
The Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, and WGVU Public Media formed the partnership to coordinate the series’ content and programming.
Lisa Perhamus, director of the Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse and associate professor of educational foundations, said the initiative grew from conversations among the partners who then received support from Mantella, as this initiative aligns with goals in the Reach Higher 2025 strategic plan.
Nonprofit organization One America Movement presided over Wednesday’s afternoon of discussion entitled “How to Talk to Your Neighbor,” which included students, faculty, staff and community members.
Kevin McIntosh, Michigan’s regional outreach manager for One America Movement, told the workshop’s participants that the organization's goal is to push against the toxic polarization prevalent in today’s society.
“It’s not about the issue, but how you talk about the other person. That’s what makes it toxic,” McIntosh said.
“America is not as divided as we might think. We still have hope. There is room for discussion and creative solutions. We see the most extreme voices who get TV time, and we think all Democrats are like this or all Republicans are like this.”
McIntosh said people assume the other side is acting out of hate or ignorance when the response should be to ask clarifying questions (What did you mean by that? Can you tell me more?) and grant people the benefit of the doubt.
“Show you are actively listening, don’t interrupt, be present, look for cues, stay open minded and be self-aware,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh said another tactic to avoid is regurgitating data like is often the case on social media channels. McIntosh pointed to research which indicates the more data is presented in arguments, the more often people will retreat to their corners of safety.
“Data doesn’t change minds; storytelling is how we start the conversations. It’s about that person-to-person connection,” McIntosh said.