by Kyle Stucker ’17
Students at Wabash College are not yet through one month of the fall semester. Some may still be getting used to the college environment after the summer, but this is not the case for the Wabash Democracy Fellows in the Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse Initiative, who have been hard at work since August.
The Wabash Democracy Fellows are currently beginning work on several upcoming projects. This preliminary work involves logistical concerns, discussion planning, and training new fellows for future discussions. Most of the fellows have taken a rhetoric course that trained students to facilitate conversations. Other fellows have had extensive experience facilitating conversations within the community and around campus. These facilitation skills are very important for the work of the WDPD initiative, and therefore some time is devoted to further training the fellows for various facilitation scenarios.
Each Tuesday afternoon two groups of six fellows meet to practice facilitation. These practice sessions last a little over an hour and attempt to mimic scenarios that Fellows might encounter during campus and community discussions. These discussions so far have been very productive. The new Fellows are already very skilled in facilitation and looking forward to the opportunity to test their abilities.
Another function of these small group meetings has been to discuss the primary principle of the initiative: Freedom of Speech. Fellows read and discussed a Yale President’s convocation address in which he urged students not to silence others because they disagree with their opinions. By discussing this address the fellows learned that further discussion is the way to properly deal with offensive speech. We also read material from the Supreme Court Case Whitney v. California. This discussion and others like it have been instilling the core values of the WDPD initiative and improving the skills of the Democracy Fellows as we consider how our work connects to rights and responsibility of free speech.