What we recommend for better controversial conversations at CSB and SJU
In promoting more and better conversations on controversial issues, we can build on the fact that our students already believe these conversation are an essential part of a liberal education.
In designing dialogue activities and events, we should place a strong emphasis on inviting students to speak up and express disagreements openly. For students who have been silent or excluded in the past, this may require repeat invitations.
We should empower students to lead controversial conversations, and to invite their peers to participate. Such empowerment may be closely linked to our efforts to promote a more vigorous academic ethos on campus.
We should seek to overcome the homogeneity of our campus community, both by inviting students to reflect on the differences of religion and ideology that do exist, and by bringing a more diverse range of speakers to campus.
We should continue to experiment with a variety of dialogical models, recognizing that no one size fits all.
We should continue to provide students with multiple opportunities to discuss controversial issues related to gender and sexuality. These conversations should invite students to explore their personal experiences and values, the experiences of diverse persons, the insights of the academic disciplines, and the teachings of religious traditions.
At the same time, and in light of the preoccupation with gender and sexuality at church-related colleges, we recommend that we provide equal numbers of opportunities to discuss issues related to economics, race, the environment, and other important contemporary issues.
In conversations about sexual orientation, we should make special efforts to include both GLBT students and students with traditionalist viewpoints, recognizing that both groups may interpret the silence of their peers as hostility.
We should be less afraid of classroom conversation about abortion, seeking to provide an antidote to the harsh polarization of conversations on this topic outside the classroom.
We should recognize that our students have very diverse ideas about the meaning of our Catholic identity and promote open dialogue on this issue.
We should recognize that official Catholic teaching on sexual orientation and women’s ordination is so well known and so offensive to many of our students that they have difficulty engaging Catholic teaching on other topics. As an antidote, we must do more to spread awareness of Catholic social teaching, and we must be explicit about the links between Catholicism and our commitment to social justice.
We should recognize the special challenges faced by religiously and politically conservative students on a campus where the overwhelming majority of faculty members are liberals of some stripe. Our first response to these students should not be to challenge their beliefs, but to help them find their own voices, and then to guide them into critical conversation with their peers.
We should address the conversational challenges experienced disproportionately by men or by women, without assuming that all men or all women face these particular challenges.
In order to be well prepared for the sort of public controversies that have occurred at other Catholic colleges, it is essential that faculty and administrators communicate regularly about the different ways they are affected by pressures from beyond campus. We should recognize that these pressures are likely to intensify whenever a new college president comes on board.
College of Saint Benedict
37 South College Avenue St. Joseph, Minnesota 56374 (320) 363-5011
Saint John's University
2850 Abbey Plaza Collegeville, Minnesota 56321 (320) 363-2011