Bring back the Civil Discourse

Over the summer, Colby switched from the General Announcements system to the ColbyNow system. While there are new and beneficial features of ColbyNow, this new system requires that people opt in to receiving Civil Discourse email updates, preventing campus-wide conversation. An opt-in system thus silences the discourse that we need to have to better our campus, and the College should change the default back to receiving the emails.

At the same time this switch made the Discourse less easily accessible, it added the positive feature of comments on specific posts, allowing people to comment immediately on Discourse posts instead of waiting for the next day’s email to go out to share their response. This new feature allows for more conversation on each topic. In a comment on the Discourse, Adrienne Carmack ’18 described it as a place for “genuine, civil public dissent.” Allowing comments on posts increases our ability to have conversations on the things people are “dissenting” to, which therefore betters our community.

Last year, people posted in the Discourse about things such as dorm damage, race, class, sexism, respect for others, violence, sexual assault, political correctness, and critiques and aspirations for how we can make the college a better and safer place for everyone. That means that, if only for a moment, the campus was talking about these issues. We need to talk about these things even though they tend to make us uncomfortable. These conversations are how we learn and grow as people.

Last spring, the Discourse became a site for controversy. While I may have fundamentally disagreed with some of the posts, I think that all of the opinions needed to be heard in order for us to more fully reflect on our culture. The Civil Discourse is a place where all voices can be heard. We can disagree with each other. We can learn new things. We can reaffirm our positions or change them. At every step of the way, this exchange of ideas makes us think.

There have only been two posts so far this year. Granted, a lack of posts is not inherently a problem–the platform exists for when people have things they need to say. But even though people may not post every day, we need this platform to be available to all for when things happen that need to be discussed. Making the Discourse harder to access makes it easier to avoid talking about challenging issues.

I fear that this new system has the same effect that we see time and time again in critical conversations about culture on this campus: the only people who will choose to opt in are the ones who are already involved and interested in talking about these things. Distributing the Discourse to all students involves people in discussions they may never encounter otherwise. This forum allows for people to share ideas between groups of people on this campus, which diversifies conversations and broadens horizons for all. Many people I have spoken to do not even know the Civil Discourse still exists. When I told a student we now have to opt in to receive emails, the student responded, “That defeats the point of the Civil Discourse.” Carmack, in her comment, agreed, saying, “ColbyNow has a lot of barriers that privilege the deliberate ignorance of much of this campus.”

In his October 2nd Civil Discourse post, Wilder Davies asked, “Is ColbyNow just a thinly veiled attempt to silence discourse on campus?” While I cannot say whether this was the college’s intention or not, I can say that the new system will have the disastrous effect of silencing discourse. The school should demonstrate their commitment to diversity, learning, and civil discourse by making sure everyone receives Civil Discourse email updates by default.

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