Baylor’s Harris-Stanford program took the stage twice this year during assembly, first on Sept. 25 and again Oct. 16, as part of their civil discourse program. Discussing a wide variety of topics from raising the minimum wage to abolishing the electoral college, this program is the latest installment of on-campus groups (such as Raiders Against Prejudice) that seeks to promote awareness of social issues through round table-style discussion.
I reached out to Maddie Kim '22, a participant in these discussions, who described the process as one of careful preparation rather than spontaneous conversation. “We usually have a week or so to do research and think about our positions,” she said. “We want to represent a spectrum of views in the discussion so that we have space to agree with, disagree with, and qualify each other’s opinions, so it’s important that all of us are well-researched and varied in our responses.”
Kim stressed the essential nature of having these conversations, no matter how difficult the topic may be to broach. “Civil discourse is built upon a foundation of mutual respect,” Kim said. "Although the participants in the discussion may not agree with each other, they are willing to invest care and effort into seeing the issue from the other person’s perspective. The most important issues inevitably generate discomfort, but it is vital that we push behind our comfort zone in order to engender productive discussion.”
Reactions to the discourse within the student body were mixed. While a few praised the program for its focus on promoting friendly yet informative discussions, some criticized the relatively narrow scope of opinion and pre-planned talking points. Nonetheless, the civil discourse program seems to be here to stay, and in an era of rising political tensions and stark polarization, understanding and tolerating opinions of others is never a bad skill to have.