Political dialogue in the United States has reached a point where opposing sides sometimes sound as though they’re not just coming at issues from different perspectives but living within entirely different realities. What role can the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the Middlebury Institute play in facilitating the kind of critical conversations that are needed?
When we engage in social media–based discussions and see or hear individuals presenting obvious falsehoods, we should point out that while they are entitled to their opinions, we are not persuaded. We should indicate the credible sources of information we use to form our opinions. Whenever appropriate, we should cite information from the authentic sources—and multiple sources—of information we know from outside of the U.S. Citing only U.S.-based media sources runs the risk of contributing to the echo chamber character of contemporary discourse. —Tsuneo Akaha, Professor of International Policy and Development
In the Sustainable Coastal Management class, we explore practical strategies to assess vulnerabilities of coastal communities to various threats, including climate change. We explore different ways to frame climate-related issues and focus on multi-objective and multidisciplinary approaches. We search for adaptation strategies that also provide social, environmental, and economic benefits, and identify specific issues that are important to a diverse audience. By recognizing what we have in common, rather than focusing on political differences, we may find a way to move forward. —Juliano Calil, Adjunct Professor of International Environmental Policy
The first thing that we teach our interpretation students at MIIS is to listen—to listen actively and carefully to the words of the person talking. I could not think of a better role for all of us in the MIIS community than listening in order to understand better the issues at hand and be able to find consensus and common ground for the good of our country and humanity in general. —Leire Carbonell Aguero, Associate Professor of Translation and Interpretation
What we need to do is fully restore the Institute’s original commitment to truly free and open debate—precisely the opposite of what is now happening on many, if not most, university campuses across the nation, including the Middlebury campus, where the shameful incident with Charles Murray occurred. This would not only be in keeping with the Institute’s founding ideals, but with the mission of any legitimate institution of higher education, and we need to lead by example throughout the Middlebury enterprise. —Michael Gillen, Professor of Translation and Localization Management, and Translation and Interpretation
First, close your computer. Second, turn off your phone. Third, shut down your iPad. You off-line yet? Do any of the following. Do more than one. 1. Join a group outside your comfort zone. 2. Run for office in the manner you wish others would. 3. Come to speaking terms with people in your family who are politically opposite you. 4. Read good books—well researched and well argued—by people who disagree with you. 5. Donate to 501(c)(3)s that create dialogue across differences. —Kent Glenzer, Associate Professor of Business Administration and Public Administration
Language classrooms can serve as transformative spaces where we cultivate dialogue around controversial issues and critical incidents rather than debate. While debates involve looking for gaps in the opponent’s argument, dialogues enable us to enhance our understanding of a topic and truly hear the other’s voice and intended meaning. Disagreements then serve as a natural and healthy component of conversations. Confronting difficulties and conflicts honestly rather than smoothing over them facilitates social cohesion and intercultural understanding. —Deniz Ortactepe, Assistant Professor of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages/Teaching Foreign Language (TESOL/TFL)