NSights Blog

Community Howls: An opportunity to advance dialogue, enact democracy on important issues to us all

The next "Community Howl" on Oct. 30 designed to discuss safety and justice in our community

Wolf packs howl for a variety of communicative reasons: howling helps coordinate pack activities, forms social bonds, and creates stability in the group. Howling is also for individuals to express emotions or intentions. Wolves "talk" to each other for a lot of the same reasons that humans do, but the one thing wolves seem to have figured out better than humans is how to howl in ways that reinforce solidarity and that keeps the family functioning-rather than "howling" in ways that create divisiveness, polarization, or hard feelings among members of the pack. I'm certain that wolves would look at the current state of our political discourse and wonder how humans can survive at all.

I'm not a wolf specialist, but I am a communication specialist, and have been working this past semester to develop community discussions on social issues. Students from my Facilitating Difficult Discussions course have been learning facilitation skills and principles of dialogue to help small groups have productive, inclusive discussions with one other about the "wicked problems" of our society-those without easy solutions and that usually involve understanding the different values, experiences, and issues at stake. Working with ASUN's Center for Student Engagement, undergraduate students facilitated the first "Wolf Pack Community Howl" on Oct. 2 to discuss issues of mental illness and the different ways communities can address this difficult issue. Using a model from the National Issues Forums, student facilitators guided participants to discuss with one another their personal stakes in the issue, explore different options, and consider the trade-offs of choosing one action over another. For example, with mental health, we might value our ability to choose our own treatment options (or not to have treatment), but at the same time, might also value the safety that comes from screening or medicating those that might not fit our ideals of normal. As you might guess, discussions don't arrive at a clear "solution," or consensus of what is best. Instead, participants get a chance to express their views and learn from others-considering aspects of the topic they might not have thought of before. In this, we hope participants leave with a new found efficacy and motivation to continue to have these types of difficult discussions with others.

One thing we learned from the first Community Howl is that most had no idea what do to or what to expect (what even is an event based on conversation?). Most events on campus are for students to listen to an expert tell them what they know or what should be done. Community Howls are just the opposite-this is a chance for anyone (regardless of expertise) to contribute their insights and experiences in order for the small group to listen and learn from each other. We know that if people aren't provided the space and opportunity to learn how to have productive discussions with others, then they are less likely to engage with others with different views than their own or participate in politics in other ways. Like actual wolf packs, it is through communication that we can enact democracy and coordinate our actions based on the needs and interests of different members of our communities. These Community Howls bring that experience to campus.

Do you want to experience a healthy, and productive howl? Do you want to be able to discuss issues that are important to you with other members of our UNR community in a structured way? Then come to our next Wolf Pack Community Howl on Oct. 30 (6-8 p.m. in the Joe Ballrooms). We will be talking about what it means to have safety and justice in our communities, and explore options of how policing, the judicial system, and community involvement might be used to make our communities fair and safe. ASUN Center for Student Engagement will be continue the Community Howls in the spring semester to explore issues of health care and food security. Let's all follow the lead of actual wolf packs to howl for the good of our communities!

Amy Pason headshot