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CCU Atheneum:

Edwards College fosters conversation on inclusiveness and civility

by Sara Sobota
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A contentious presidential election provided many opportunities for Coastal Carolina University students and faculty in the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts to participate in debate and develop a greater discussion and understanding of the U.S. political process.

Ongoing activities were designed and implemented to facilitate critical thinking of the political process while advancing a campus climate of inclusiveness with an emphasis on critical dialogue among all students, faculty and staff.
CCU President David DeCenzo distributed an email to students, faculty and staff on the day after the Nov. 8 election that addressed the effects of the election.

“The process has generated a level of divisiveness that is unprecedented in our public life,” DeCenzo wrote. “As an institution of higher learning, we have developed a culture that fosters inclusiveness, civility and respect for the viewpoints of others.”

The Edwards College sought to underscore that message in a number of ways.

“Election Reflection,” a town hall-style gathering held Nov. 9 provided a forum for students, faculty and the community to come together and ask questions or express opinions about the election results and the future. Sponsored by CCU’s Department of Politics, a panel of faculty members held a roundtable discussion and then opened the floor for questions and conversation.

One of the topics discussed from a scholarly perspective was whether gender mattered in this election. Considering the divisive nature of the campaign and election, organizers had concerns that emotions at the event would run high, but they found otherwise.

“It was a calm, positive environment,” said Kaitlin Sidorsky, assistant professor of politics. “It was instructive. It was important to voice a perspective that hadn’t been brought to light. It’s important to have calm, positive dialogue in a country that right now is very divided. We’re seeing, both on campus and in the larger world, a lot of hate. It’s important to encourage more positive dialogues, and based upon what I saw and heard, students want that, too.”

While the Election Reflection focused on the political aspect and ramifications of the election, another event addressed students’ feelings and responses to the political process and the current political climate.

A “Love Rally” initiative took place on two consecutive Friday afternoons in November on Prince Lawn in the middle of campus. Organized by an interdisciplinary group of faculty members, the Love Rally was designed to affirm inclusiveness and camaraderie among students, faculty and staff, as well as continue the classroom conversations.

“There’s a thirst for generating critical conversation around some of the rhetoric we’re hearing” both through the election process and in the post-election transition period, said Emma Howes, assistant professor of English. “Students are interested in how to participate in civic engagement, and how to do it civilly and with respect. It’s about listening, pausing, thinking and then responding.”

Ben Sota, associate professor of theatre, said the rallies also allowed students to come together physically rather than just engaging in dialogue solely in a digital space.

“Let’s actually get together,” Sota said, “not just communicate on a computer keyboard.”

More than 200 students attended the Love Rallies, which included music, brief theatrical performances, and a sidewalk chalk area where participants drew and wrote sentiments related to inclusion and diversity. Students and faculty discussed issues involving the campus climate and ways to perpetuate civic engagement.

Other events planned for the spring semester include a panel discussion featuring Howes and Christian Smith, assistant professor of English, titled Race in the Classroom and sponsored by the Jackson Family Center for Ethics and Values. The discussion will explore how CCU students and faculty members experience and handle questions about race in their day-to-day classroom interactions.

Also, an interdisciplinary group of faculty members is planning a series of informal discussions in locations around campus where students congregate.

“We thought going where the students are, rather than keeping everything in the classroom, would be effective in generating conversation and demonstrating that these topics should not be limited to the classroom,” said Jen Boyle, assistant professor of English. “We can talk about important things, civilly, in the dining hall, in the student union, or in open spaces around campus.”

In these and other ways, faculty are interested in getting and keeping students talking.

“We’d like to see these activities as part of a continuing collegewide conversation,” said Howes.



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