CNN’s Soledad O’Brien moderated a panel for the St. Thomas and Target sponsored event “Freed Speech: Dialogues on Civil Discourse” Thursday at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis.
Former Minnesota state representative Laura Brod, rapper Dessa, Citizens League executive director Sean Kershaw and St. Thomas communication and journalism department chair Wendy Wyatt were the other members of the panel who discussed the role of civil discourse in society.
O’Brien pointed out that civility doesn’t necessarily mean restriction.
“I love that this event is called ‘Freed Speech’ because sometimes I think people misinterpret calls for civility as almost a call for censorship,” O’Brien said. “As a news person, of course, I’m all about letting people speak their minds.”
Kershaw said civility is important in order to have democracy.
“I think it’s one of the tools in our democratic tool box and when used well, it solves problems and it makes the democracy better,” Kershaw said.
Brod said civility is about engaging with others who don’t share the same views as you.
“To me, civility is argument,” Brod said. “It’s also about recognition of perspectives that are different than yours, not that they’re going to be right, and not that they’re going to be wrong, but you should care about what other people think.”
Dessa shared her a personal experience from college when a roommate of hers used derogatory language. She realized after talking to a friend that sometimes civility is responding to tough issues.
“Instead of responding to her, I removed myself from it with this very self-celebrating, self-righteousness,” Dessa said.
When Dessa actually talked to her roommate about the issue, they were both able to learn from it.
“The speed with which she turned around her idea of that particular word, was as if she was sent to re-educate me,” Dessa said.
Sophomore Kelly Geraghty said Dessa’s story resonated with her.
“Sometimes we don’t really confront the issue, we just kind of let go and then talk to other people about it,” Geraghty said. “It’s so true that you do have to confront the issue or else it’s never going to be solved.”
Sophomore Nick Ronnei said he thought the event was very well-planned.
“I was surprised and excited to learn that Target was a partner in the event because I don’t think they could’ve made this quite the affair it was (without Target),” Ronnei said. “I think it drew a lot of the attention it deserved.”
Ronnei also said he left with a sense of hope.
“Civil discourse can improve and will improve, just because of the impressive types of people who are here tonight, from professors to people who are in corporate policy and beyond,” Ronnei said.
Tarkor Zehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.