Civil Discourse Initiative Gains Momentum
Erik Kersting

“This is not a ‘be nice’ campaign. This is a ‘be reasonable’ campaign,” said Dona Warren, assistant Dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point who is helping lead the Civil Discourse Initiative.

The Initiative is a project at UWSP that has started gaining momentum the past few months. Warren and the Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, Christopher Cirmo, have requested and acquired grant money to make civil discourse a reality on campus.

The goal of the program is to help build a community at UWSP where students can engage in discourse with one another in a respectful way. While we may not agree with one another on issues, we don’t have to just “agree to disagree,” but rather try understand one another’s viewpoints and ideals.

The goal of the program is fairly lofty.

“What we’re after is to listen to people. If you disagree with them think about it, and then if you think it is appropriate, express your disagreement in a way that is as productive as possible,” Warren said.

While she does not believe that students here are unreasonable, she wants to refine reasoning skills so that even in a contentious situation, they remain intact.

The project’s inaugural event will take place Sept. 17, Constitution Day of next semester.

“We’re going to have a series of workshops during the day in the encore room of the DUC. Then in the evening of Constitution Day, we’re going to have a panel discussion to illustrate civil discourse in action,” Warren said.

This event, however, is just the beginning of the initiative. Warren is excited by the prospect of growth.

“Where this goes is partly a function of where people want to take it after September 17,” Warren said.

While there is no specific growth pattern for the initiative, Warren would like civil discourse to be ingrained in UWSP ideology.

“I see it as eventually becoming an explicit part of the institution’s mission,” Warren said. “I would like this campus to be known as a place that values disagreement, encourages dissension, and insists on civility in conversation about contentious issues.”

The Student Government Association is also joining the cause, as well other on-campus institutions. The best way for students to get involved is to email Warren. Students can email Warren at dwarren@uwsp. edu if they wish to get involved.

Jeff Powers, an English major at UWSP, is certainly interested in the project.

“I think it is important for people to talk about their differences. We’re not so different. We just build it up in our own minds,” Powers said.