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Dialogue Across Differences

“One of my highest priorities is to ensure all members of this community feel included and all voices can be heard—even the ones that challenge or upset us. We must do all we can to promote the exchange of ideas, anticipating that it sometimes will result in passionate conflict.”

-Dr. Suzanne M. Rivera, President

At Macalester College, we foster a learning environment that challenges our students and supports them as  they develop their own opinions. This means encouraging them to remain curious, listen deeply, practice discernment, and maintain a learning stance as they encounter ideas that are unfamiliar or even in conflict with their worldviews. We invite students to engage courageously with the most vexing controversies of the day. Sometimes it gets messy and that’s okay. 

We believe more speech—not less—is vital to learning. We treat differences of opinion as opportunities to learn and grow. For this reason, we encourage academic departments at Macalester to invite speakers to campus from across the political spectrum who are passionate about their areas of expertise. We train students to communicate persuasively in classes, using evidence to support their arguments. And, through co-curricular programming, we provide opportunities to apply these skills in dialogue with others. 

Here is a sampling of the efforts currently underway at Macalester to promote viewpoint multiplicity and encourage dialogue across differences.

Civil Discourse Project

Macalester Professor of Political Science Lesley Lavery will participate in the summer seminar “Teaching Civil Discourse in the Classroom.” Part of Duke University’s Civil Discourse Project, the seminar promotes civil discourse through modeling and teaching the capacities and virtues necessary to engage in productive exchange across differences. The seminar will cover topics including potential course content and best practices for effectively promoting civil discussion over sensitive topics in the classroom.

College Presidents for Civic Preparedness

Representing Macalester, President Rivera is an inaugural member of College Presidents for Civic Preparedness (CP2), an initiative of the Institute for Citizens and Scholars. CP2 brings together campus leaders who are committed to preparing today’s young people for confident citizenship in our democracy. Participating institutions spotlight, uplift, and emphasize the principles of freedom of expression and critical inquiry on our campuses through a coordinated set of presidential and campus activities.

Congress to Campus

Congress to Campus is the flagship program of the Association of Former Members of Congress, an alliance of 800 former US senators and representatives. In 2022, with financial support from Mac alums, Macalester began a partnership with Congress to Campus that will bring new speakers from both sides of the US political aisle to campus each year. 

The program helps students become informed voters who understand multiple perspectives on an issue, engage in constructive dialogue, and practice listening to opposing views, even when they make us uncomfortable or angry. The goal is not to engage in a formal debate, with a winner emerging at the end, nor provide a platform for former members to broadcast their personal views. 

Congress to Campus participants, including students, faculty, and President Rivera, pose with former US representatives on stage in Mairs Concert Hall.

Unpacking Academic Freedom at Congress to Campus

Former US representatives Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) were at Macalester in October 2023 for the second Congress to Campus event.

Congress to Campus speakers sit on stage in Mairs Concert Hall. Seats in the auditorium are filled by community members.

Learning Across the Aisle

Former US representatives Sam Coppersmith (D-Ariz.) and Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) participated in a question and answer session in October 2022 about how they arrived at their positions on reproductive rights.

Critical Dialogue Series

The Critical Dialogue Series invites us to listen to voices that affirm, contradict, and challenge our worldviews. Led by staff in the Lealtad-Suzuki Center for Social Justice, this series equips our community with the tools to navigate complex and difficult topics, interrogate our lived experiences, and embrace the contradictions inherent in real-world issues. 

Macalester Alumni of Moderation

Macalester Alumni of Moderation – or “Mac Mods” – is a group of active alumni dedicated to promoting free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity on campus and in the world. They share our belief that a liberal arts education is enhanced by differing points of view shared freely on campus.

Reduce the Rancor, Minnesota

Reduce the Rancor, Minnesota is a statewide campaign led by Braver Angels to reduce hostility and increase respect in public and private life. Macalester has endorsed the program alongside other prominent leaders and organizations in Minnesota.  Together with participants from University of Northwestern, Macalester students, a faculty member, and the President, will participate in ongoing dialogue to practice the skills of respectful dialogue and build relationships across ideological differences.

Third Way Civics

Third Way Civics, coordinated by the Minnesota Humanities Center, is a program that involves various higher-ed institutions offering a one-semester course built around primary source readings (from the era of first contact to the twenty-first century), student-directed inquiry/deliberation, and action. The course seeks to contextualize Americans’ long history of political and ideological divisions  and turn them into opportunities for individual and collective growth – growth among the students who take the course and, by extension, in the peer groups, dormitories, workplaces, hometowns, and other communities they animate and shape through their actions (and will animate and shape in future).

Ultimately, the Third Way Civics is designed to support students to act as collaborative and productive citizens, equipped and motivated to recognize common interests, formulate common values, and devise common strategies for acting across even deep differences of experience and perspective. It is intended to help students navigate the realities of viewpoint multiplicity in a diverse democracy and to engage constructively in dialogues across sometimes profound political and ideological differences.

“The ‘Mac Bubble’ is not the same as the real world, so these kinds of experiences can help us to accomplish our mission, part of which is to prepare students for lives of political and civic engagement beyond this campus.”

-Dr. Andrew Latham, Professor of Political Science