Salt Lake Community College

SLCC, Site of 2012 Civil Discourse Conference

Monday, Dr. Brittany Stephenson–English professor at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah–chaired this year’s SLCC Student Conference on Writing and Social Justice, Doing Democracy:  Inclusive Civil Discourse.  During the day, there were twenty presentations touching on inclusive civil discourse from several perspectives, from philosophy in film to social justice for families; Shad Engkilterra, a reporter for and SLCC’s Globe, critiqued a number of the presentations here and here, and wrote about the conference as a whole here.  After the presentations, there was a reception for the presenters, and a community panel discussion.  The panel included Mayor Peter Coroon, my friend Jane Holt of the Salt Lake Center for Engaging Community, the founder of Empathy First Initiative Kendall Wilcox, and myself.  The Mayor spoke about the importance of inclusion, Ms. Holt spoke on the vital role civility plays in strengthening community, Kendall addressed how honest civility heals, and I spoke about religious freedom and respect for others.  They invited me to display several pieces of the 99 Names project sculptures during the conference, which were well received.

After, and the highlight of the day, Eliza Griswold delivered the keynote address.  She spoke about her work as a journalist examining religious interaction and divides, read from her poetry, and read from and discussed her book, The Tenth Parallel:  Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.  Although much of her writing on the subject reads as stark, she said her hope–here very real hope–lies in the many examples of families coming together in efforts to build community and survive.  She said that in the many, many conflicts blamed on religious divides, there is never lacking a strongly disruptive political component.  We spoke for a brief moment afterwards, and she reiterated her very real, practical hopes for a peaceful future, mentioning practical interfaith work in areas like Nigeria, where families are looking at each other as humans and neighbors first, before pointing out each others’ differences.

This conference recalls to mind one of my favorite verses of the Qur’an, 49:13:

O mankind!  We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other)).  Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you.  And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

I am also reminded Arun Gandhi related that, when his grandfather was asked his faith he said, “I am human first.”

The conference was a wonderful experience.