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Encouraging Civil Discourse at a Time of Partisan and Ideological Bitterness

The Liberty & Law Center a Scalia Law School is launching a program to encourage civil discourse among students of differing ideological commitments.


The Liberty & Law Center at the Scalia Law School, George Mason University, is the law school's newest academic center. I'm the executive director. Among the programs we've launched in the last year are a free speech legal clinic, a public interest litigation and advocacy concentration, and a liberty and law reading group.

Our newest program launches Wednesday, and I thought many VC readers would find it of interest. The program, a response to the increasingly bitter partisan and ideological divide in the United States, is called "Discussion over Division."

Given the increasing vilification of and attempts to silence people with divergent viewpoints, Discussion Over Division aims to facilitate constructive dialogues between those with differing points of view and ideological perspectives. Discussion Over Division is open to all students at Scalia Law, and will facilitate conversations between students of differing political ideologies (as self-identified by participating students) by matching students up and providing a meal over which the students can converse about issues about which they might disagree. The hope is that participants will be more likely to see people across the political and ideological aisle as well-meaning fellow citizens, rather than as "the enemy."

Following our launch event on Wednesday, the Liberty & Law Center will host boxed-lunch and -dinner events where participating students will have a discussion with someone with a different political ideology. Students will alternatively be able to schedule their discussion on their own and receive reimbursement from the Liberty & Law Center.

The Liberty & Law Center believes that discussions such as these are an important to reducing the current divisiveness and animosity seen in the political and policy arenas. The Discussion Over Division Program will also host policy debates and conversations that highlight the value of civil discussion on important issues.

The Scalia Law School is a good place to launch this program because we have a student body that, according to informal surveys, is closely divided between left-leaning and right-leaning students, and the law school's environment is one in which students aren't afraid to reveal their viewpoint for fear of social ostracism by their colleagues. Conditions may not be quite as inviting elsewhere, but we nevertheless hope that the idea spreads to other law schools and beyond.

Anyone interested in started a similar program at their institution should feel free to contact me for details about logistics and so forth.