Ready to open up the conversation

Su Hong / The Diamondback
Su Hong / The Diamondback

New student group encourages dialogue on controversial issues

By Jenny Hottle, staff writer
Friday, September 8, 2012
Originally posted on

One political party, two vastly different opinions.

During a time when political parties are becoming more polarized than ever, two Republican state senators presented their contrasting views on same-sex marriage last night at the first meeting of Dialogue for the Future, a new Honors College-affiliated organization.

The group, created by Honors College director William Dorland and government and politics professor Dorith Grant-Wisdom, seeks to develop a community where “students could talk about interesting and often polarizing topics in a way that is informed and open,” said sophomore government and politics major Mackenzie Burnett, a member of the group’s executive board.

Burnett and five other students joined Dorland and Grant-Wisdom last November to brainstorm ways to bring students and faculty across the campus together to discuss current events and hot-button issues. The group’s first event yesterday featured a debate between state senators Allan Kittleman (R-Carroll and Howard) and Edward Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) in order to bring a new perspective on the political process to the campus.

“We wanted it to be a scenario where students and faculty could collaborate,” Grant-Wisdom said. “This is what education is all about.”

Burnett said the university community would benefit from having a conversation about important topics outside the realm of the classroom.

“We wanted to be able to get faculty and students to talk outside the normal pressure of grades and strict curriculums,” Burnett added. “The faculty are really interesting people, and so are the students, and I think we can learn a lot from each other.”

Last night, the debate on same-sex marriage in this state, an issue up for referendum this November, prompted exactly that kind of dialogue. Freshman biology major Tom Klotz said he thought the debate provoked some worthwhile discussion on a relevant issue.

“I think it’s a provocative topic, and a benchmark and important discussion of our generation,” Klotz said.

This semester, Dialogue for the Future group members will address two major topics — same-sex marriage and education reform — in two four-part in-depth examinations Burnett said will give students a better understanding of issues that affect them. In between the major events, group members will explore other topics, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“We want people to get informed with the facts first, find as many perspectives as possible and then form an opinion on something,” Burnett said.

Last night, after philosophy professor Dan Moller gave a brief objective analysis on same-sex marriage, Kittleman and Reilly presented their views, asking students rhetorical questions to help them form their own opinions.

“Most people look at marriage as a religious institution, and if that’s true, why is the government even involved?” said Kittleman, who voted for the state’s same-sex marriage bill.

Although Reilly voted against the bill and said he supports the traditional Catholic view of marriage between a man and woman, he said he now wonders whether government should hold this view as the only acceptable standard for marriage in today’s society.

“Is our traditional definition of marriage appropriate?” Reilly asked the audience.

Following the senators’ speeches, the group’s executive board opened the floor to student questions.

Lydia Nichols-Russell, a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences and the daughter of a lesbian couple, asked the state senators if her parents should be able to get married. While she said it was interesting to see both perspectives of the debate, Nichols-Russell added that she didn’t think the senators fully addressed her concerns.

However, she said it seemed most students at last night’s event were in support of same-sex marriage. Nichols-Russell added she still plans to attend the next event to share her beliefs and learn more about the traditionalist view of marriage.

“I think most of the audience was pretty homogeneous in terms of our opinions,” she said. “I think it’s good to see both sides.”

The Dialogue for the Future series on the same-sex marriage debate will continue next Tuesday in the Anne Arundel Hall basement, where group members hope students will be able to discuss the issue further.

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