Faculty share how they facilitate civil dialogue, debate and action in the classroom and beyond.
by Meaghan Haugh Resta
by Meaghan Haugh Resta
“Both in and outside the classroom, I strive to promote civil dialogue and enhance knowledge about constitutional rights and liberties. My classes include intense discussion and structured debates on cutting edge constitutional questions. A key focus, for example, of my Civil Liberties course, is on the contours of the free speech protections in our Constitution. Here, as in other areas of Constitutional Law, misperceptions about the scope of individual liberties are common. As the Supreme Court has emphasized time and again, a core First Amendment value is ensuring 'an uninhibited marketplace of ideas,' in which a multitude of competing views can be expressed without governmental restriction. Yet, students are often surprised to learn that even vile and repugnant hate speech is constitutionally protected except in very limited circumstances. The best response to speech we don’t like is more speech in the form of civil dialogue and peaceful protest.
My strong interest in enhancing public knowledge of constitutional rights is also reflected in my leadership role over the past 12 years in our annual Constitution Day events. Constitution Day provides an opportunity to engage students, faculty and staff from a wide range of disciplines in learning more about constitutional controversies and hopefully inspiring them to become more knowledgeable and more politically engaged. These events have been extremely popular with over 500 members of our community attending each year. We’ve been successful in recruiting a variety of prominent speakers, including Anita Hill, Nina Totenberg, Bryan Stevenson and many others, who talk with our students in large and small-group sessions on a variety of timely constitutional topics. Through their knowledge, compelling personal stories and passionate commitment to enhancing civil rights and liberties these speakers have inspired students to learn more and to engage in our political system through voting, advocacy and action."
–Linda J. Wharton, professor of Political Science & Pre-Law adviser
“One of the things that strikes me while teaching about topics such as race, migration and Islamophobia is just how little so many of our students know about our racial past. Their social studies classes have reminded them time and again about the Boston Tea Party and how a bill becomes a law. But students all too often arrive in my classes with scant knowledge about, say, the murder of Fred Hampton, the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, or the militant abolitionism of John Brown (and if you, too, are unfamiliar with these histories, well – you’ve just proved my point). Once our students are presented with the uncomfortable facts of America’s racial legacy, I am stunned at the compassion and diligence they bring to their studies and their eagerness to pursue social justice outside of the classroom.
One student told me that, before taking my “Race & Islam in the U.S.” course, her only exposure to Muslims was an experience as a child at an airport, when her father led her away from Arabic-speaking passengers, telling her ‘don’t look at them.’ She told me that taking the class changed her entire outlook on the relationship between the U.S. and ‘the Muslim world.’ I find such paradigm shifts inspirational; it gives me great hope to see students willing to revisit, revise, even abolish their long-held assumptions about race and difference. As a faculty member, it is my responsibility to ensure that the classroom and the campus at large is a site for the open exploration of such ideas. I regularly invite students to challenge and disagree with class material (provided they do so in an informed, educated, and thoughtful manner). "
–Nazia Kazi, assistant professor of Anthropology
“I believe all good sociology should be an exercise in viewing the world through various lenses. In my classes, I ask students to temporarily suspend their own worldview and “try on” a different mode of thinking — be it viewing the world through a quantitative or qualitative lens; through the eyes of various social theorists; or from the point of view of a different social group. After multiple instances of “trying on” these different viewpoints, students are able to realize that their prior worldviews might have been quite limited in scope. It is through developing students’ ability to take on the view of the other that I also push students to commit to working for social justice, equality, and inclusivity. By teaching students to take on numerous points of view, students are encouraged to recognize their social location and work towards a more equitable world. Having students practice public sociology through problem-based learning, community engagement and service-learning not only makes for better citizens, but also makes for more informed and active sociologists.
Outside of the classroom, I am the Faculty Coordinator and Co-Instructor of the Stockton Center for Community Engagement’s Naturalization Course. This course is designed for permanent residents who wish to become citizens and meets each week from September-May in Atlantic City. Over twenty community members have regularly attended the course since September of 2015 and 8 attendees have successfully passed all requirements and become naturalized citizens. I coordinate and teach the weekly lessons with various Undergraduate Student Co-Instructors, helps them to better understand their role as citizens. This is an ideal combination of teaching and community engagement that demonstrates civil dialogue and perspective-sharing through the collaboration of numerous community and campus actors.”
–Jessie Finch, assistant professor of Sociology
“As coordinator of the Sociology/Anthropology (SOAN) program, I have asked our faculty to be engaged in the community (both within and without Stockton) through their teaching and research. The Sociology/Anthropology faculty has, each in their own way, embraced this challenge and developed classes and initiatives that critically examine prevailing attitudes toward race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation and age. The goal has been to allow students, through debate and discussion, the opportunity to resist and offer alternatives to dominant modes of thought that might subordinate others.
In a variety of external projects, SOAN professors have tackled women’s health, LGBTQ rights, discrimination against minorities, Islamophobia, and the status of immigrants both here and abroad. Community initiatives include the status of women in Atlantic County, oral histories of African Americans in Atlantic City, Black Lives Matter, safe spaces for LGBTQ youth, immigrant naturalization, community gardens and food insecurity.”
–Joseph Rubenstein, professor of Anthropology
“In my work, I have the opportunity to facilitate dialogues both outside in the community and inside the classroom. I lead with an anti-colonial and feminist framework that critically analyzes the built-in hierarchies of particular spaces. The critical thinking used in my research and teaching stems from a critical pedagogy framework that asks us to challenge the beliefs and assumptions within practices and foundational discourses. By acknowledging the hierarchy of viewpoints and bringing the marginalized perspectives center, we commence a new standpoint in which to engage in educating ourselves as a practice of freedom. In the community, I, along with other members of the Black Lives Matter Atlantic City core team led monthly educational sit-ins on a variety of different topics including the school to prison pipeline, domestic and sexual violence and LGBT issues. We engaged in deep and thoughtful conversations discussing our standpoints and many times, exposing the hierarchy of power and perspective within Atlantic County. Within the classroom, dialogue, debate and most importantly, vulnerability is welcomed as we use a critical thinking framework revealing that all viewpoints are not valued the same within institutional spaces.
A common mistake I see when discussing how to have civil dialogues in institutional and community spaces is the assumption that ideas and viewpoints are all viewed and valued similarly with an emphasis on giving everyone a fair chance to speak. I, and other faculty, staff and administrators at Stockton work to de-colonialize dialogues to center marginalized perspectives working to make our spaces safe for all. "
–Christina Jackson, assistant professor of Sociology