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Students at Florida State University Show What Campus Dialogue Can Look Like

We see too many stories about students who try to silence viewpoints they don’t want expressed on campus and who thus miss opportunities to take part in difficult, and often important, conversations. But not enough focus is given to students who make an effort to engage with the views of those with whom they passionately disagree, and the good that can result from those discussions—so we’d like to draw your attention to a recent exchange at Florida State University (FSU).

Two events intended to draw out FSU students occurred simultaneously last Friday: a “National Blackout” event coordinated by students addressing the recent police-shooting death of Terence Crutcher, and a speech from right-wing activist and Breitbart tech-editor Milo Yiannopoulos, whose speaking tour has been met with controversy and, sometimes, censorship. Student newspaper’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reports what happened next:

At the Integration Statue, a rally organized by black student leaders in conjecture [sic] with a “National Blackout” for Terrance [sic] Crutcher was an hour in when several students wearing Trump gear who were planning to attend the Yiannopoulos event came face-to-face with the dozens of students standing for Crutcher.

Yet what could have been a tense confrontation instead turned into a civil discussion of opinions and differences between both sides.

“It didn’t get heated but we were very passionate. I heard some of the same rhetoric from them that I hear on the news, so I set the stage for an open conversation about differences and opinions and they were very receptive to it,” said Maurice McDaniel, one of the homecoming directors for FSU’s Black Student Union (BSU) and an organizer of the solidarity event. “Once we realized they weren’t here just to provoke us and just wanted to talk, we really bought into that.”

Andrew Melville, one of the directors of the Coalition of Black Organizational Leadership within BSU and another organizer, said the civility shown by everyone opened opportunities for people to listen to each other – something not readily seen in day-to-day media coverage.

“We’re all college students at Florida State University and this is what going to college is about. They listened and we listened and it was just a great opportunity for both sides,” Melville said. “I think the media does a horrible job and portray only the crazy things that happens but civilized conversations can happen too.”

“We put our differences aside and we were just people. You don’t see something like that every day,” McDaniel said.

Zeballos-Roig was actually present for the discussion and posted clips to Twitter. Here, student Maurice McDaniel, who helped to organize the “National Blackout,” speaks with FSU students supporting Donald Trump and shares his thoughts on systemic racism and why he chooses not to support Trump’s candidacy:

McDaniel goes on to say:

You probably won’t leave this conversation saying “OK, you know what, they were right,” we may not leave this conversation saying “you know what, they were right,” but we just really don’t feel like [Trump] supports us but we understand that you may be trying—I don’t know what your intent was coming over here, [but] I’m imagining it’s good, ‘cause you didn’t come like screaming and everything, [and] I applaud you for that.

He then notes that little attention is paid to “people respecting each other’s differences and trying to talk it out, trying to come together—unity. You won’t see this on CNN.”

While FIRE takes no stance on the political statements made by any students at this event, we’re impressed by their efforts to not only converse with their opponents in good faith, but to expect that their opponents came to speak with them in good faith as well.

These students may not have left in agreement with each other, and that’s perfectly all right. Discussions don’t need to begin under the condition that their participants should be in agreement when they end—what matters is that they leave with a better understanding of those with whom they disagree, and their reasoning for doing so.

We hope to see more discussions like this happen on campus this year.

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