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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Student government plans civil discourse launch for next semester

In anticipation of the 2020 presidential debate on Notre Dame’s campus next fall, student government is leading an initiative to spark civil discourse across party lines within campus communities. While the program does not yet have a name, student body vice president junior Patrick McGuire explained it as a “dorm Converge model.”

“So it’s taking the same kind of ethos behind Converge, which is using personal connections to facilitate civil discourse and kind of bridge ideological divides,” McGuire said. “But especially using a community foundation to make that happen. So trying to make Converge extend its reach but also use pre-existing communities to kind of further its impact.”

Student government’s department of community outreach and engagement, ND Votes, College Democrats, College Republicans and Civic Duty South Bend co-sponsor Converge, which pairs people on opposite ends of the political spectrum to have casual conversations about their political views. Converge, McGuire said, seeks to humanize the other side and foster respectful understanding of one another’s political views. 

In addition to the organizations that run Converge, this new initiative has the support of the Hall Presidents Council and the political science department.

“What we’re thinking right now is that brother-sister dorms can have larger scale events and conversations,” McGuire said. “Following that we can use representatives in dorms … [to] match people up into small groups. That way, it’s potentially less intimidating, but still facilitating really good dialogue that is still really personal but also potentially more feasible.”

Student government hopes to launch the program next semester, inspired by the announcement that Notre Dame will be hosting the first presidential debate in September 2020, McGuire said.

“We want our campus to be a model of how you can treat one another when it comes to civil discourse for a time when civil discourse will be more important than ever on our campus,” McGuire said.

McGuire said various organizations are working with the department of political science to develop curriculum and incentives for the conversations, as well as a guide on how to conduct respectful dialogue. McGuire hopes students will want to participate due to the importance of the issue, he said.

“As a former hall president and also just a person who has lived in dorms at Notre Dame and loved them so much, I feel like I’ve really seen that when you can have a conversation that is with the people that are essentially your family on campus … so much starts there and so much can come from there,” McGuire said. “If you start some really productive conversations with the dorm communities, with your family, they can often be difficult conversations but I think that they can be more meaningful perhaps.”

Bringing difficult conversations closer to home is the goal of the initiative, McGuire said. He expressed faith in the dorm community’s ability to handle divisive topics.

“I also think that’s the beauty of Notre Dame,” McGuire said. “I’m confident in the students of Notre Dame and in our dorm communities that conversations like this will serve to bring us together rather than push us apart.”

McGuire emphasized the importance of establishing guidelines for respectful dialogue early on.

“I think a big part of that will be really setting the tone in initial conversations and in how we introduce what the purpose is of the program,” McGuire said. “Not having a debate, essentially, but trying to understand where people are coming from, and what guides their values and decision-making in terms of political ideology is something that is really important.”

While student government is still working out the details of the program, the vision is mostly complete and the organizations that intend to be involved are helping to plan. 

“The general framework of what we want is pretty clear,” McGuire said. “The really good thing is all of the people who need to be involved in those conversations are involved in those conversations. … I think the important parts to get ready before you dive into the mechanics, we’re feeling good on and we’re ready to dive into the ... finer details.”