NSights Blog

Howl your opinions – deliberately

Learning how to deliberate current events and issues is key to finding understanding and common ground, and joining your fellow Wolf Pack members for Community Howls is a great way to do it.

‘Tis the season for presidential candidates to descend on campus, competing with other speaker events sponsored by groups across the political spectrum.  Inevitably, you make choices of which speakers fit your views and interests, never to engage with or attend events from other perspectives.  In fact, we might recoil and avoid encounters from those on the “other” side at all costs.  We might think it futile to even talk to others about our views on current events or politics, knowing we could never convince them to change their mind.  However, democracy requires us to engage with others, find solutions to community problems, and plan for futures that include diverse interests. The question, then, is how we overcome divides and learn how to discuss difficult and controversial topics with others, and not merely attend events where we just cheer for “our side.”

Learning how to deliberate current event issues with others is exactly the task that students in COM 468: Facilitating Difficult Discussions have focused on this semester, as they prepare to facilitate the Wolf Pack Community Howls for this semester in conjunction with ASUN Center for Student Engagement.  Students are learning that it is possible to have discussions that are intended to gain mutual understanding on complex topics and understand the interests of different stakeholders rather than trying to “win” a debate. From my experience with last year’s Community Howls, students who participated in small group discussions following the National Issues Forums model on the issues of mental health and community safety and justice walked away from the discussions understanding the topics in new ways and reconsidering their views in light with what they heard from other participants.  Some students even reported being more willing to have similar discussions with friends and family.

The Wolfpack Community Howls is where you get a chance to speak your mind and participate fully.  The discussion is structured to ensure that all, regardless of expertise or position, are able to contribute. All participants test their critical thinking skills to understand that each possible action to an issue has benefits and trade-offs, and that there is likely some common ground to be found amongst many perspectives. In a deliberative discussion, there are no winners or losers—just gaining new understanding of complex issues we face as a society.  Student facilitators learn over the course of the semester how to ask questions to get at the heart of different positions, helping participants listen and understand one another through the Community Howl discussion format.

On October 23, we invite all to discuss issues of national security with “Keeping America Safe”.  The US faces a variety of threats from terrorist groups, climate change, and global economic issues, not to mention needing to balance needs at home including improving infrastructure or education. In this discussion, we’ll tackle different options from making national needs our top priority to working with others to solve global problems.  Who knows, you might walk away from this discussion understanding “America First” is a position that those who favor red hats have with those that want Medicare for All. 

On November 4, we invite you to come deliberate with us the pressing issues raised with the opioid epidemic. Options participants can discuss range from thinking about treating those that are addicted to thinking of alternative pain treatments or safe injection sites.  Especially in Nevada, many have been affected by this nationwide issue, making it more important for us to discuss possible solutions together, recognizing our common interests in keeping communities healthy.

Again, in the season where we will hear the many plans that politicians might have for these issues, wouldn’t it be nice for a change to have your own say and see what others are thinking in our UNR community?  If this sounds appealing, please join us for the Community Howls!

Amy Pason is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies.  She teaches courses on persuasion, facilitation, public speaking, and other courses related to public advocacy.  She researches the rhetoric of social movements, and has a co-edited collection from University of Alabama Press, What Democracy Looks Like: The Rhetoric of Social Movements and Counterpublics.

Amy Pason headshot
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