#IHearYou — A Community Discussion on Civil Discourse and Respectful Debate

edward-derr-dsc_0430On October 18, Edward Derr welcomed a diverse audience of students, faculty and administration when he took the floor as moderator of Three Rivers Community College’s panel discussion, #IHearYou –a Community Discussion Civil Discourse and Respectful Debate.  The discussion stemmed from an initiative of Mark Ojakian, President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, to ensure that campuses provide a safe climate for ideas and opinions to be freely shared and debated.

Derr, the TRCC ConnCAS Coordinator, asked carefully curated questions that ranged from how to respond to comments that hinge on stereotypes to the role that higher education holds in ensuring a place to discuss the decisive issues that political candidates have made a part of everyday discussion.  An engaged audience posed additional questions, some highly personal, which led to thoughtful responses from the panel.

Panelists included President Ojakian who said, “Our role is to encourage vigorous civil debate on the difficult issues facing our society free of fear and personal attacks.” Both Lee-Ann Gomes, Director of Norwich Social Services, and Celeste Arrieta, TRCC Assoc. Professor of Foreign Language, touched upon the need to be open to other cultures as well as being willing to confront your own biases.  Gomes went on to urge the audience “to call yourself on it every time you think of a stereotype — if you don’t know your implicit biases you have to think it through.” State Senator Cathy Osten pointed out that anger and prejudice are often based in fear and that much can be overcome by looking at what drives the negativity. The panelists all agreed that debate requires people to be open and willing to listen.  Arrieta urged people to “be interested in learning about other people, be aware of other cultures” and “try to make connections, engage.”

The panelists also agreed that people should examine their own cultural backgrounds. They need to challenge the implicit biases that color their perception of other people and influence how they see themselves in the world, including the limits that they place on themselves.  Panelist President Mark Ojakian stressed that everyone in Connecticut who wants an education has a right to one and Arieanna Ramos, TRCC student, followed up and emphasized how important it was for poor and minority students to realize “that they can come into these doors and be college students.”

The conversation was filled with questions about struggle and disenfranchisement but the clear message from the panel was one of hope and the ability to move forward both as a community and as individuals if we put in the effort to self-examine, challenge personal biases and open ourselves to different views and cultures.

The discussion was hosted the ConnCAS Program of TRCC and was a part of the #IHearYou campaign promoting respectful debate across all 17 CSCU campuses.

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