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A Message from Dean Hall: Difficult Conversations as a Catalyst for Change

A Message from Dean Hall: Difficult Conversations as a Catalyst for Change


Hi, this is Donald Hall, dean of the Faculty
of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester. Part of the work I’ve done as a scholar has
focused on the concept of dialogue. And a scholar that I myself have gone back
to often is Deborah Tannen, who is a sociologist who wrote a book called “The Argument Culture”
back in 1998, that explored how American society has been pulled apart by a media-driven emphasis
on disagreement, argument, and talking heads. And I think we have a responsibility on campuses
in particular to lead the way in re-establishing the practice of civil discussion and disagreement. Even when we do disagree with people, we have
to find a way to seek common ground and to agree to disagree at times. And this problem is the reason behind something
that I established a year and a half ago here when I arrived at the University of Rochester:
a series called “Difficult Conversations as a Catalyst for Change.” And what I’ve done over the past year and
a half is bring to campus thought leaders who hold very real, very strong opinions about
some of the problems that we’re faced with today in American culture, but who have been
willing to open themselves up to conversation and dialogue around their beliefs and to answer
questions. And we’ve invited questions from students,
from staff, from faculty members, and from the Rochester community that I or panelists
have been able to pose to these thought leaders to get their opinions and at times to disagree
with them, but at least to explore the complexity of the issues. In fall of 2018 we brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
who spoke about his own experiences growing up in a racially polarized arena in sports
vocation, and how he made his way in the business world. We brought last spring Angela Davis, who talked
about what we’re facing on college campuses today and the problems that she has faced
as an advocate for academic freedoms, civil liberties, and how the whole enterprise of
arts and humanities and social science education is under threat now. And just recently in the fall of 2019, we
had Madeleine Albright talking about some of the key policy questions facing us in American
interaction with the rest of the world. Next spring, I’m happy to announce we’ll bring
to campus Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and he’ll be talking about racial profiling. What I’ve learned from all of them is that
we can talk about difficult topics, agree to disagree at times, but also find common
ground and chart a path forward. And this is what we’re trying to do at the
University of Rochester: to be ever better. So we hope that you will join us in the spring,
when Dr. Dyson is on campus in March and see what we’re doing here in order to live that
ethos of Meliora.

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