Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dialogue and Facilitation in Polarizing Times

Our initiative on dialogue and facilitation continues to grow as the hub for meaningful conversation around issues of the day.

In the 2015–2016 academic year, HNMCP launched two major programs as part of our political dialogue initiative. The first, Real Talk, was a collaborative effort with the Systemic Justice Project to host a series of dialogues and events on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The second, HLS Now, served as a quick response dialogue framework for members of the HLS community to discuss major happenings on campus, in national politics, or on the world stage.

Building on the successful launch of Real Talk and HLS Now, this Fall HNMCP launched a brand-new reading group for students who seek to engage the topic of political dialogue. The name of this new course is, “Political Dialogue in Polarizing Times: Election 2016.” The reading group provides participants with an opportunity to explore the possibilities, benefits, and limits of sustained, civil dialogue on the most contentious political issues of the day. In addition, the Reading Group is taking a close look at the state of political dialogue in the United States through its 240 year history.

In addition to engaging on a theoretical level about political dialogue, students in the course also have the opportunity to engage as active participants in political dialogue on topics related to the 2016 election. Students from our Fall semester workshop, The Lawyer as Facilitator Workshop, are facilitating a series of political dialogue sessions in which participants from the Political Dialogue reading group engage. The topics for discussion include Immigration, Identity Politics, Campaign Finance, and The Role of Political Parties in United States Elections. Throughout October and November, HNMCP is hosting four multi-session days of dialogue. These sessions include participants from the Political Dialogue group as well as others from within and from outside the Harvard Law School community. This dialogue series also provides students in The Lawyer as Facilitator even more rigorous, hands-on facilitation practice than in past iterations of the course. Fall 2016 marks the third time The Lawyer as Facilitator Workshop has been offered at HLS but the first time as an expanded four-credit class

To bring to the fore the importance and challenge of political dialogue, especially in an election year, HNMCP cooperated with the University to host Facebook Live conversation on the topic of civil and meaningful dialogue during this year’s election cycle. HNMCP Director and Clinical Professor Robert Bordone ‘97 and Assistant Director and Lecturer Rachel Viscomi ‘01 spoke to viewers about how to have a conversation about the election and other contentious topics without alienating one’s family, friends, and social network. The Facebook Live conversation responded to live questions from viewers at home and attracted over 27,000 live viewers. Since HNMCP produced the video on October 4 there have been nearly 119,000 views on Facebook.

In this challenging moment for civil discourse in our nation, creating for genuine political dialogue becomes an urgent task, ripe for possibility and transformation. In the coming year, HNMCP hopes to build on the Political Dialogue reading group, expand its reach on social media, and continue to develop unique initiatives like Real Talk and HLS Now.