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DIFCON's new debate format asks participants to ‘own our differences’

By SUE WUETCHER

Published April 7, 2017

“No winners or losers; just earnest, insightful and respectful debate.”
Teresa Miller, vice provost for equity and inclusion

DIFCON Spring 2017 will ask participants to “own our differences” as UB’s Difficult Conversations series takes a different approach — a debate-style format — this semester to address provocative topics affecting the nation.

The format, in which a panel will consider a value proposition from opposing viewpoints, will offer members of the UB community the opportunity “to increase our capacity to negotiate deeply held beliefs and values across a terrain in which those values are contested, and perhaps even rejected by others,” says Teresa Miller, vice provost for equity and inclusion.

“As the panelists and the audience identify and express their different views on the proposition, they will learn how to thoughtfully, respectfully agree to disagree — and perhaps even change their position.”

The series of mid-day panels taking place April 17-21 “will challenge UB students, faculty and staff to own the differences that exist within the UB community,” Miller says.

She notes that in an increasingly polarized political climate, “we need the skills to navigate social and professional relationships across differences. Now, more than ever, we feel the need for healthy, robust discussions with people who hold beliefs that may differ from our own,” she says.

The format for this spring’s DIFCON is simple: A moderator will give a three-minute capsule summary of the controversy the proposition addresses. Four panelists will give a brief statement of their reasons for supporting or opposing the proposition, and then talk among themselves for a total of 30 minutes. The floor then will open for discussion for the next 45 minutes. The moderator will end the session by summarizing the discussion and asking audience members to reflect upon what they learned.

“No winners or losers; just earnest, insightful and respectful debate,” Miller says.

Faculty, staff, and students from across the university and across disciplines will serve as panelists and moderators.

The series is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion.

All sessions will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Intercultural and Diversity Center, 240 Student Union, except for the April 19 session, which will be held in 104 O’Brian Hall.

Here is the schedule for DIFCON Spring 2017, the value propositions to be discussed and additional sponsors for the sessions:

  • April 17: Heritage Month celebrations — e.g., Black History, Women’s History, Hispanic Heritage, Native American Heritage — are essential to an inclusive, culturally competent university community here at UB. Sponsored by the Intercultural & Diversity Center.
  • April 18: Student athletes are free to express their political beliefs both on and off the field. Sponsored by UB Athletics.
  • April 19: Hate speech is fundamentally incompatible with an inclusive campus climate. Sponsored by the School of Law.
  • April 20: Statues, flags and other icons that serve as reminders of historical legacies of injustice should be removed from college and university campuses. Sponsored by the UB Libraries and the Department of History.
  • April 21: Campus judicial systems effectively balance the interests of both those who report sexual assault and those who are accused of it. Sponsored by Student Conduct and Advocacy (formerly Judicial Affairs) and Wellness Education Services.

DIFCON: “Owning Our Differences” continues last fall’s DIFCON: “Our Cities. Our Issues,” which addressed five issues that sparked civil unrest and protest in cities across the U.S., and the inaugural “difficult conversations” series in spring 2016, which examined 12 topics impacting individuals and society.