On April 9, Salt Lake Community College hosted the 2012 Student Conference on Writing and Social Justice. The theme this year was “Doing Democracy: Inclusive Civil Discourse.”
The conference featured author and journalist Eliza Griswold, a panel discussion that included Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and student presentations during breakout sessions.
Griswold is the author of the New York Times’ bestseller “The Tenth Parallel,” which details her exploration of the world where Islam and Christianity meet. Griswold said that in places where basic needs are not being met, people of all religions come together for “mutual assured survival.” That may mean purchasing a wood stove with a neighbor or a group of people going in together for clean water.
“I do have a lot of hope,” Griswold said. “The hope is in the practical interfaith work that is happening particularly in Nigeria.”
In addition to Corroon, the panel discussion featured Jane Holt, coordinator for the Utah Civility and Community Initiative, artist Andrew Kosorok and filmmaker Kendall Wilcox.
“The limit of civility is ignorance,” Corroon said, citing the importance of education in curbing incivility.
Kosorok outlined three things for people that would increase civility: use of critical thinking skills, recognizing that we are all human and that humans inherently have the right to speak.
“The reality is we don’t live on the world alone,” Kosorok said, saying that everyone has a right to exist and disagree with us.
Some people think that being civil can be moving someone to abstraction and boxing them in a set of beliefs rather than seeing them as a person, or that civility can include ignoring the person. Wilcox said that to engage people civilly, we need to use applied empathy and increase our ability to understand one another.
“If we can’t have civil conversations then we are never going to get better, so what’s the point?” said Wilcox.
During the first breakout session of the day, Bryce Quintana presented his thoughts on America’s priorities and where the country needs to be.
“We don’t need to have an enemy to succeed in innovation,” Quintana said. “We don’t have to live off of fear to further ourselves.”
Quintana said that the United States should work with other countries for mutual benefit and focus on infrastructure, education and research and development rather than relying on military strength.
Quintana also touched on the importance of education and civility by saying that people need to get informed and talk to each other using every means possible, from letters to the editor and to legislators to social media.
Ober Delgado chastised the education system for not doing what it is supposed to, which is to “teach lower education classes [gen eds] at lower levels and higher education classes at higher levels.” Delgado said that students are wasting their money on books and credit hours for classes that do not pertain to what they want to do professionally and that these classes teach what students should have learned in high school.
Billy Walker presented on social justice and how the United States can get there as a society. His suggestions included getting out of comfort zones, actively listening and becoming immersed in different groups through volunteering.
“We should celebrate our diversities,” Walker said.
The conversation will continue with a post-conference roundtable discussion on April 11 at noon in STC 207 at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus. On April 12, Wilcox will talk about “homosexuality and the Mormon Church” at the Salt Lake City Public Library at 6:30 p.m.