Productive conversations between two people of opposing viewpoints are pointless unless both speakers are committed to finding common ground.
Brandon Van Dyck, assistant professor of government and law at Lafayette College, presented "Free Speech vs. Political Correctness?" at Westminster on Monday before a group of faculty and students. He was accompanied by senior student Lydia Creech, offering a politically conservative viewpoint; school Chaplain Kiva Nice-Webb; and Jeremy Straughn, director of the Churchill Institute for Global Engagement.
"I'm probably not the only person worried about this country," he said about division in the United States.
To that end, Van Dyck created the Mill Series at Lafayette College to promote viewpoint diversity. He's invited people qualified to speak on a variety of legitimate issues.
"In light of these concerns, I created the Mill Series and bring speakers to Lafayette with well-reasoned arguments," he said. "They can be pretty pointed arguments."
He does vet his speakers though in the interest of halting the spread of incorrect information, false narratives and fake theories with no basis in reality.
"It would be a good thing to get some genuine opinions on the table," Van Dyck said.
It's comfortable to live in our own little worlds, but listening to other legitimate points of view is enlightening.
"You will not be as effective of a proponent without exposure," he added. "It's also important to your moral and spiritual development."
He also said lack of political development on campuses and in society can be bad for the development of the United States as a nation.
Sitting in the room were members of Westminster College's Democratic and Republican clubs. Van Dyck suggested they get together and create an event. Nice-Webb said, in her role as chaplain, she is responsible for hearing students' varying points of view, whether she agrees with them or not.
"It is my role to be a chaplain to all students; it is my job to sit and listen with you," Nice-Webb said.
Students need to learn how to engage fairly, too.
"I see a lot of cliques and a lot of people not interacting across (political viewpoints)," she said.
Neither conservative nor liberal students feel like there is much room for their points of view — even from teachers. Creech said some of her professors' points of view "bleed" into their classrooms.
"It's disappointing," she added. "Professors are supposed to teach."
Westminster College staff and professors have said their job is to bring all sides of commonly recognized culture including politics to the table for free and open discussion. But a professor in Monday's audience said after the college hosted Sen. Bernie Sanders, some alumni protested with their billfolds.
"They said it was outrageous you would bring Bernie Sanders to campus," he said. "Lots of alums said, we won't give another cent to that campus."
Political science professor Tobias Gibson noted some campus cultures, at institutes such as Brigham Young and Oral Roberts universities, are pretty predictable. He also said a campus size and history can influence its culture.
Straughn said he's been putting together a series of student conversations, like Monday's, through the Churchill Institute.
"The goal of this was to start conversations," he said, adding the series is dubbed "Tough Conversations. These are topics that affect us all."