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Letter from the Editor: Resurrecting a lost art

by on March 01, 2018 9:31 AM

As the story of another mass shooting at a school unfolded in mid-February – this time in Florida – I thought about the words of two Penn State educators profiled in this month’s Town&Gown.

They aren’t speaking about school shootings. But in separate interviews, in different contexts, they speak of the importance of dialogue across differences.

“One of the great struggles we have right now is that people are having trouble talking to each other,” Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, says.

“Universities,” she says, “are crucial places in our society for having dialogue across difference.”

Cynthia Young, chair of the Department of African American Studies, is leading the Sawyer Seminar Series at Penn State called “Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance.” The series seeks to bring diverse audiences together to talk about a range of timely topics impacting our society.

In a society in which where you live determines much of your social and cultural interaction, “People don’t have many opportunities to test or challenge their stereotypes or their beliefs,” Young says.

The series of seminars aims to open up that dialogue.

In many ways it seems like open dialogue – a spirit of finding common ground – has become a lost art in our public discourse.

The need to fix that seems even more urgent in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

The words we hear now are the same words we hear each time one of these horrors occurs. Everyone offers thoughts and prayers, and vows that something must be done.

Those are the same sentiments we heard after the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 elementary school pupils and six staff members died. I was working in Connecticut then and helped lead coverage of that tragedy for a chain of newspapers. That included meeting the parents of some of those young victims. Their pain is something no one should have to experience.

But since then there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide, in which 138 people have died, according to The New York Times.

The ways to address the problem are again being debated. But as with much of our political discourse these days, many seem to talk over each other. Listening to opposing viewpoints is at a premium.

Which brings us back to the wise words of those Penn State educators. Opening a real dialogue, in which finding common ground is the goal, seems like a great place to start.


Mark Brackenbury

Editorial Director


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