Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

A dialogue about discourse

Sarah Sachs ’16, (left) who is political coordinator for Representative Pete Aguilar ’01, shares her perspective on civil discourse. She is joined on the panel by Carole Beswick (center), U of R trustee and civic leader; Kelsey Myers ’01 (right), producer of CBS This Morning; and Andrew Wall (not pictured), dean of the U of R School of Education.

When Director of Alumni & Community Relations Shelli Stockton asked me if I would participate on a panel “How to Engage in Discourse in a Civil Society—The Role of the University of Redlands,” I initially was not sure what I could contribute. But as I reflected on my own experiences, I quickly realized I had more to say about the topic than I had originally imagined.

I currently work as a political coordinator for Representative Pete Aguilar ’01 (31st Congressional District). Unfortunately, on the campaign trail, I face uncivil discourse on a regular basis. Despite polarizing comments that are shared daily in the world of politics, I still challenge myself to engage in civil discourse: civility has to start somewhere. Incivility rarely changes other people’s minds and often deepens the divides among us.

At the March 31 alumni event in Orange County [there were similar events in San Diego and Washington, D.C.], I shared some of my stories, including one about my graduate school classmate from North Dakota, a dear friend with whom I disagree on the topic of fracking. Even though we have very different perspectives on this issue and have had heated conversations regarding sustainable practices, we are still able to respect each other as human beings because we acknowledge our different experiences in that area.

During the panel, U of R Provost Kathy Ogren did a great job of moderating the conversation, drawing out the different perspectives of four very different panelists. Carole Beswick, former chair of the University’s Board of Trustees and the first female mayor of Redlands, represented the perspective of someone who has thrived in local government. Emmy award-winning news producer Kelsey Myers ’01 shed light on what it is like to work in the media during a time when that sector is sometimes framed as the enemy. U of R School of Education Dean Andrew Wall provided context from an educator’s viewpoint and challenged us to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

I was excited to see in the audience a few young alumni who asked probing questions about emotions in politics and building bridges. Their engagement reinvigorated my view that a Redlands education fosters intellectual curiosity and civic involvement.

That was certainly my experience at Redlands. Through my classes and extracurricular activities, I learned how to have a mindful discussion, think about how others might react in certain situations, and possess an awareness that our personal experiences affect how we perceive the world. During the second semester of my senior year, I also interned with Pete Aguilar’s campaign—a taste of things to come!

I loved all of my professors—the faculty from political science and public policy met with me almost daily.  Professors Greg Thorson, Steve Wuhs, Renee Van Vechten, and Art Svenson taught me so much about policy and helped guide me when I decided I was not going to pursue law school. I would not have been admitted to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University had it not been for their mentoring and support.

After the alumni event, several attendees approached me to continue the conversation, wanting to discuss everything from voter turnout to the engagement of young people in the political process. In addition to alumni, I also met the parents of a first-year student majoring in political science.

I think many people were drawn to the event because the topic of civil and uncivil discourse is in the news every day. We are starting to see how discourse affects us, and we yearn for opportunities to be engaged without fighting. This event provided such an important opportunity with fellow Bulldogs.

To see more Alumni and Friends events, visit www.redlands.edu/alumni.