The first of a series of “Real Talks” was held on Thursday September 29th in Jewett Auditorium, the purpose of “Real Talks” was to bring the SMCC community together to engage mediated discussion about some of the most pressing issues of our time. Topics included: free speech, the Second Amendment, racism in the media and at large, and the growing concern about the upcoming presidential election.
Roughly fifty members of the SMCC community attended the event, the purpose of which, was to provide a safe space where both students, faculty, and staff could engage in respectful and meaningful conversation about seriously controversial issues. During the hour and fifteen minute long conversation, a member of a panel of experts outlined a hot button issue, and then microphones were passed out into the audience for response and discussion.
Before the start of discussion, precedent was set about the expectations of the dialogue, and the understanding that all opinions would be respected, and all audience members were to be treated with both respect and dignity.
The panel included: Ronald Cantor, President of Southern Maine Community College, Julie Mueller PhD, from the political science department: Professors Robert Foster, Herb Adams, and Angel Christian of the Social Sciences Department, and Camilla Lofving of the English Department.
After a brief introduction from Angel Christian, President Ron Cantor took the podium to share an experience he had had in meeting with attendees of the Early Childhood Development program on campus and a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting he had attended.
As a member of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cantor attends meetings that discus wage, property and education issues with business leaders and others. He shared with students how he relates with the intensity and confidence it takes to speak up about things – especially when no one else is shares that view, and again affirmed the ground rules of respectfully disagreeing when necessary to keep our conversations productive and helpful.
Herbert Adams led the first discussion. In a robust tone, Adams explained that each topic would be discussed in ten-minute increments- even though students and faculty could talk all day on these issues- before moving into his subject of free speech.
“You might think you know what’s in it, BUT I DOUBT IT!” declared by Prof. Herb Adams as he passed out a paper-clipping of the First Amendment that stated: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right Government for a redress of grievances.” (1791)
“The constitution of the United States in an experience,” stated Prof. Adams before he opened up the floor for feedback and discussion.
“We don’t have that right,” one audience member spoke up, explaining that he had been fired from many publishers in the past for expressing his viewpoints about controversial subjects. In one of his articles he called the governor a “mental eunuch,” which consequentially lead to his dismissal.
The audience member’s statement was countered next by both a student and a faculty member. “Maybe we have free speech, but no freedom from the consequences.” Julie Mueller, Chair of the Political Science Department responded, “Free speech is not dead, it’s about being ‘politically correct’ and creating an atmosphere of respect.” In response, a student chimed in and talked about how people feel restricted.
Continuing along this line of discussion, the next audience member thanked the room for having this discussion and wisely added, “People often times mistake political correctness for kindness.” The student then directed the conversion to the rise in “trigger warnings” in higher education and SMCC’s stance on censoring or warning students about potentially disturbing subject matter.
President Cantor response was to admit that the school does not have any official policy surrounding trigger warnings. “I don’t tell facility what to do in that respect.” He next spoke about trusting his faculty to be sensitive to student’s needs and depending on both students and faculty to be honest and sensitive about their needs. He ended in defining his expectations for faculty to get to know and connect with students.
Nicholas Moll acknowledged that the English language is complicated, that people are over-simplifying statements, which makes miscommunication easy and that our cultural unwillingness to resolve these misunderstandings adds to the complications. He went on to describe our high-tech world and how it is removing voice-tone along with body language.
The floor quieted as a new speaker introduced himself as a self-described liberal-libertarian. His main message was for people not to compromise their personal beliefs. In other words: to be real. Immdiately, another student responded by saying how he does not think it is the right thing to do, to say rude things to a person’s face.
Professor Foster led the next section of discussion which focused on the 2nd Amendment and gun control. Foster again provided the audience with a written definition of the amendment.
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Justin Cochran, Student Senate President, voiced his concern about guns in the hands of violent criminals attacking defenseless people, motivated by hate and discrimination. Cochran did not attend the Gay Pride Parade in Portland, Maine (even though his friends and he had been going for years!) after the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando this June.
He went on to say that, “Their target is minority groups,” and reminded the audience that the constitution was written over 300 years ago. He focused on how technology has changed so much – especially when it comes to making weapons. ”They now make guns that can shoot off fifteen rounds in a second,” Justin added. He ended in commenting that, “This is very jarring and very unsettling.”
Another student used his voice to express that, “There is no subliminal meaning to it.” Agreeing that technology has changed a great deal, he highlighted that, “You don’t need an AR 15 to go bear hunting… This is a self-defense issue, a gun is a tool and the one pulling the trigger is the problem.” Settling on the position, “People kill people, not guns,” another student responded.
A new voice echoed on the floor stating that his dad was a hunter and has basically inherited six different firearms. However, he supports the compromise of gun control and also supported Senator Bernie Sander’s gun control efforts in Vermont.
To end this segment of the discussion, the conversation was once again directed to the personal feelings that many people had about guns and gun ownership. This part of the discussion concluded with a question addressed to the audience about how competent we feel about our understanding of such a complex issue.
Leading the next discussion was Prof. Camilla Lolving. Her subject was on mass media and entertainments portrayal of women and minorities and the damaging effects this has had on society. Camilla stated further that it would be beneficial for “the real people” who have the experiences to play certain parts in movies to help educate others, and accurately represent minorities.
Since this was the week following our first presidential debate for our upcoming election, Prof. Lolving spotlighted Republican nominee Donald Trump’s use of the phrase, “Your president,” in regards to President Barrack Obama during last Tuesday’s debate. Only one student was able to reply before the discussion ended, and she proposed that the media is using current conflict like “racism” and Trump’s antics to distract the populous from “real news,” such as the brutalization of Souix Indians on the Standing Rock Reservation.
The first “Real Talk” event ended with the panel thanking the audience for their respectful discourse and patience with those of opposing viewpoints. They also expressed the hope that the conversations started during the program would continue on into the classroom and the greater SMCC community. The next “Real Talk” event is scheduled for Thursday October 27th, in Jewett Auditorium, 11:30 to 1:30. Make sure to check your email for more “Real Talk” discussions.