By Genny Boots ’18
Without question, Pacific Lutheran University’s mission centers on two core concepts: our Lutheran values and our liberal arts curriculum.
These two tenets, Sergia Hay says, make PLU ripe for dialogue, discussion and — inevitably — disagreement.
“It is embedded in the liberal arts tradition, but I think it’s also particular to PLU’s identity as a Lutheran institution of higher education that, in the pursuit of thoughtful inquiry and care, we make sure that we have open and free discussion of difficult issues,” said Hay, associate professor of philosophy.
As the PLU community looks toward a cluster of events, during which pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion positions will intersect, the campus is set to practice thoughtful disagreement. And Hay and her colleagues are in the thick of it.
In conjunction with the national Society of Philosophers of America, the Department of Philosophy is hosting a conversation on how to disagree productively and effectively. The event, titled “Disagreement: Strategies for Talking Across Divides,” is scheduled for March 5. It comes, coincidentally, as student clubs seek to exercise their advocacy around an issue that’s often marked by polarization and emotional tension.
Hay stressed that the philosophy event is unrelated to any campus controversy surrounding the abortion discussion. “But I think our event was meant to help address these kinds of things that come up all the time of university campuses,” Hay said. “And I believe that universities are a great lab for us to experiment with how to develop these kinds of skills and civic discourse.”
Hay says the event will focus on a few primary questions: “how can we have these conversations when there is disagreement, can philosophy help us in these discussions and are there strategies to use or avoid when we have these kinds of discussions?”
And it seems the stars have aligned for theory to become practice, amid a busy week of events centered on pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion debates. Student groups have planned the events within days of each other, capturing a slice of the controversy that often swirls around this topic in the political world off campus.
The string of events kicks off with “Out of Silence: Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign,” directed by Gabby Dolan ’18. This student-produced event is a collection of 13 stories written by women sharing their experiences with abortion. The production features vignettes, similar in format to “The Vagina Monologues.” “Out of Silence” is a national production associated with Advocates of Youth and the 1 in 3 campaign.
According to the organization’s website, the intent of the production is to “listen to the voices of women and to explore with them the situations, relationships, emotions and logistics that contextualize their decisions to seek abortion care.”
“I chose the show because of its very real approach to the highly politicized topic of abortion,” Dolan said. “The stories were ones that I hadn’t considered when I thought about abortion.”
Dolan submitted a proposal to Vpstart Crow (pronounced “upstart”). Vpstart is a student organization that helps support minimalist and unique student productions. Dolan and Josh Wallace ’19 were accepted to direct their submissions, and Wallace’s all-black student production — the first at PLU — of “Fences” debuted in the fall.
“I have never seen another show quite like this one,” Dolan said of “Out of Silence.” “The whole point of the show is to bring about new conversations in a cacophony of taboo political debate.”
Across campus a few days later, the anti-abortion club Students for Life will host a panel featuring individuals’ experiences with unplanned pregnancies. The event on March 9, titled “Stand with (unplanned) parenthood,” will be presented in a question-and-answer format. Carly Stauffer ’18, PLU Students for Life chapter president, says event planning started last semester.
“We sort of had a vision of that back in the fall when a community member came to us and said ‘I had an abortion when I was in my teens and I regret it and I want to talk about it,’” Stauffer said. “So we said ‘OK, let’s do what we can to make this possible.’”
The panel will include a young couple who became pregnant during college, a woman who experienced infertility and a woman who “had an abortion in her teenage years and now regrets that decision,” Stauffer said.
“We think it’s really neat that we have a lot of different stories being represented,” Stauffer said, adding that she anticipates discussion to be respectful.
These two ideologically opposed events on campus provide students and community members the chance to practice thoughtful discussion, as well as thoughtful listening.
“Listening — and doing so openly and without agenda — is key to assessing the efficacy of your own position while engaging with people as fellow human beings,” said Jennifer Smith, dean of inclusive excellence.
But this is easy to say and much harder to do, in part because society at large simply doesn’t have a lot of practice carefully listening and disagreeing — especially in today’s tense political climate.
“It can be mind-blowing to be confronted with a view that you disagree with or that is unfamiliar to you. For college students often times it can be a new experience to confront, such as different views,” Hay said. “And it can be scary when you are not sure what your position is or you are not sure how to respond well to someone you disagree with.”
But this is a debate, along with many others, that must be addressed. Even the stance on abortion by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) — the national organization affiliated with Lutheran institutions of higher learning, including PLU — leaves room for discussion. According to the ELCA’s social statement: “Christians are united in Christ through faith with both the freedom and obligation to engage in serious moral deliberation.”
And so we talk. And we listen. And we remember that our community health depends on those two actions.
“The health of any community, especially academic communities,” Hay said, “really depends on the free discussion of issues that matter to that community.”
Beyond the two student-run events, PLU Students for Life also will welcome the president of the national organization Students for Life of America, who will come to campus to present her talk “Can you really be pro-woman and pro-life?” on March 6. This event is a stop on a national speaking tour.
Additionally, a recently minted student club, Generation Action, will hold a meeting in response to Students for Life on March 9. The club chose not comment on the unfolding events, but the event titled “Let’s Talk About Planned Parenthood” will feature representatives from the reproductive health organization.
For students and community members hoping to jump into these discussions, Hay has some advice: “Engage where you can and where you chose to engage, remain calm. And try to listen well and try to articulate your position as clearly as possible.”
Finally, Hay says, work to understand intention.
“I think it’s also helpful for us to take time to consider the good intentions of people who hold views that are different than ours,” Hay said. “I think when we approach any difficult conversation with empathy for other people who are also engaging in that conversation, it will always go better.”
DISAGREEMENT: STRATEGIES FOR TALKING ACROSS DIVIDES
Where: Currently booked for AUC 213, but likely to change depending on audience size.
When: March 5 at 7 p.m.
Info: 253-535-7736, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Free. All are welcome.