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The Luther community discusses Haidt’s ideas “After the Lecture”

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The Luther community discusses Haidt’s ideas “After the Lecture”

Professor of Philosophy Storm Bailey was chosen to host a response discussion to Jonathan Haidt's lecture.

Professor of Philosophy Storm Bailey was chosen to host a response discussion to Jonathan Haidt's lecture.

Martel DenHartog (‘19) | Chips

Professor of Philosophy Storm Bailey was chosen to host a response discussion to Jonathan Haidt's lecture.

Martel DenHartog (‘19) | Chips

Martel DenHartog (‘19) | Chips

Professor of Philosophy Storm Bailey was chosen to host a response discussion to Jonathan Haidt's lecture.

Martel DenHartog, Staff Writer

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Professor of Philosophy Storm Bailey hosted an “After the Lecture” discussion on Nov. 13 of themes from Jonathan Haidt’s Farwell Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 23. The Center for Ethics and Public Engagement organized the discussion due to the campus response to Haidt’s lecture. Around half of the 60 attendees offered comments in a casual and open format about microaggressions, the power of language, and the complex role of universities and colleges concerning these topics.

“I’m really glad that we did hear people saying stuff in support of what Haidt was saying and against it,” Bailey said. “People were willing to say, ‘Well I disagree with that,’ which I was glad for because we don’t often get that; we often just have people shutting down. If it was really successful, then people — no matter what they thought coming in — ended up feeling a little more open to understanding what other folks think and maybe even have a vision on how to bring our community together.”

Gwendolyn Neal (‘19), among other students, walked away from the discussion better understanding her peers.

“I think what I got was that we really are all working towards a better community in a way that we think is the way to do it,” Neal said.

Martel DenHartog (‘19) | Chips
Audience members participated in an open discussion about themes from Jonathan Haidt’s lecture.

A major component of the discussion focused on whether or not microaggressions are truly aggressive comments, whether intent or outcome is more important, and what it means to be a constant target of these comments.

Elizabeth Wiebke (‘19) said that, regardless of intent or effect of ultimately hurtful comments, it is important to understand the bigger picture.

“Intention is important, but [someone] can’t control other situations,” Wiebke said. “[Someone] can have the best intention and still cause harm.”

The context of an individual conveying or receiving something like a microaggression was also important to Carsten Thompson (‘22).

“Whether or not someone’s points or ideas are correct, they’re worth listening to and understanding so you get their experiences,” Thompson said. “They think [what they think] for a reason and maybe that’s what you should be looking at instead of what they think.”

While Bailey pushed members of the discussion to dive deeper into their comments, effectively explaining their context, the conversation transitioned to how things like microaggressions and trigger warnings are increasingly present on college campuses and what the role of higher education really is. Joey Gamache (‘18) found the dichotomy of a college’s function — to be a vessel of learning and knowledge or a space for compassion and justice — an interesting component of the discussion.

“I don’t think they are [mutually exclusive],” Gamache said. “In order to reach compassion, true compassion, instead of a facsimile of it, we have to go through understanding first. And if we try to get to compassion without going through understanding first, we’re going to leave people out of the loop; those people are going be ignored and have neither knowledge or compassion.”

According to Piper Wood (‘21), the discussion was an opportunity for attendees to further their understanding. Wood left Haidt’s lecture with several questions, and after decompressing and sharing her opinions with friends, she sought to hear ideas on a bigger platform, especially as they pertain to Luther.

“Looking at [last spring’s hate and bias incidents] in a new semester, we can reflect and see how we can better ourselves and change ourselves to be a more welcoming and inclusive community,” Wood said. “Haidt’s lecture is getting this much talk because it’s a really interesting perspective on how we can do that, and how we may be actually working completely against doing that, with our current systems.”

Regardless of Luther’s current systems, Madelaine Ross (‘20) appreciated Haidt’s presentation but also was skeptical about its implications.

“I’m glad that the CEPE invited him because of the conversation it has started –– it’s really been an opportunity for dialogue,” Ross said. “I also recognize the ways that people who identify with marginalized groups on this campus already feel the sting of exclusion that underlies our culture here, and that for many, this was a push in that direction. It did a lot more damage than good, but I see the benefits and drawbacks of having his controversial ideas presented on such a large platform.”

Stefan Hankerson (‘19) feels that Haidt’s lecture has produced conversations on campus, but they come as conflicting monologues instead of a dialogue. 

“I think maybe something that Luther could have done before bringing a speaker like [Haidt] is have a workshop on how to hold dialogues,” Hankerson said.

The CEPE’s decision to host the discussion was motivated by Haidt’s thought-provoking ideas and a range of responses on campus, but “After the Lecture” discussions like this have been on the table for several years; scheduling conflicts have just prevented them from happening. Director of the CEPE and Associate Professor of History Victoria Christman explained that the timing worked this year. Bailey, a board member of the CEPE, formats his classrooms as open discussions and was chosen to moderate this discussion because of that.

“With so much talk on campus about Haidt’s ideas, it worked well,” Christman said. “The problem is the CEPE is over-programmed, so going forward it will be important to look at what events are working well and what students want and host more of those, like this follow-up discussion.”

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