The following report from LIsa Keyne describes the 2017 Summer Institute that was held in Federal Way, Washington June 28-30, 2017. The Washington Campus Compact Summer Institute, titled Facilitating Civil Discourse, Difficult Conversations, and Inclusive Dialogue, introduced a variety of models for facilitating civil discourse, including National Issues Forums (NIF) materials and moderating techniques.
- As a result of this work, three new moderators were equipped: John McLain, Evergreen State College; Ben Calabretta, Washington State University Pullman; and Oneida Blagg, Pierce College I am hopeful they will think about ways they might host forums at their institutions and in their communities.
- On the last day of the Institute, Bill Muse, National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) president emeritus, helped to facilitate a Safety and Justice Forum, allowing the 45-50 Institute attendees to choose to participate. A total of 21 were divided into three groups which were each facilitated by one of the new moderators. I am forwarding the three moderator reports, as well as the forum questionnaires of 18 that participated. For all but one this was a totally new experience. One had participated in the same topic forum at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) conference in June. All participants were either staff or faculty at a higher education institution in Washington state.
- The forums went very well, with great input in each group. All were engaged for the two hours we had set aside for the introduction, the forum, and the debrief.
- There were some strong reactions expressed by five to seven of the participants to process, the Issue as framed, and the video. Some expressed these comments and/or suggestions:
- The particular forum topic we pursued -- Safety and Justice -- was timely, but also fraught with tension. Just a week prior to our convening, a young black woman, Charleena Lyles, was shot by two police officers. The U. of WA was host to a Seattle City Council Forum which allowed members of the community to express their outrage over what happened. Some at our Campus Compact meeting had been at that forum, and were appalled that the Mayor did not attend. They also had some thoughts about what a "good" forum should look like based upon that experience.
- Specific suggestions that came from our forum participants include:
- There needs to be representation of thinking in the Pacific Northwest in issue guides and videos. At least one shared that it looked like the forums were geared towards white middle and upper middle class participants from the Midwest.
- The evaluations from our forums indicate some topic proposals for future issue guides. To me this is indicative that at the end of the experience all believed the process is a good one, and they would like to see it used to address some of the difficult issues they encounter.
- There was also discussion about getting the "right" people to discuss the topic. So if white privilege is written, ensure that those who most represent white privilege participate.
- To that last point, the forum-convening committee on which I serve for the Vancouver, WA, Library, discussed Better Angels at our last meeting. We all agreed, and I think this is borne out by our experience in Washington, that the forums will be most valuable when those with very different perspectives are in the same conversation/deliberation. For our library committee that means we need to be more intentional about seeking out those we perceive to have the "opposite" view of those who may attend (based on previous experiences of who chooses to be there). We also know that the ground rules for good deliberation must be upheld throughout the deliberation to ensure we really do hear each other, and in hopes of identifying the common ground we do share.
- Finally, I know that some of those who participated are interested in contributing to future issue framing processes and related processes.