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Utah students, professor discuss need for healthy discussions

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jan 11, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — College is often a time where students engage in thoughtful discussions and debates. Those discussions have been oftentimes turning aggressive, University of Utah freshman Kate Forth said.

“Sometimes folks tend to turn things to a more personal manner instead of disagreeing with what you believe in. They will turn it into saying mean things about you, or ‘Oh, you’re a bad person,’” she said.

People have stopped being able to listen, Forth said.

“We don’t have political discussions in order to win, we have them so we can learn and understand from each other,” she said.

This is not the first time we have seen times of great polarization. David Derezotes, the director of peace and conflict studies at the University of Utah, said our ancestors have before us and our descendants likely will as well. This especially becomes prominent in times of great uncertainty, he added.

“There’s a tendency to blame others and to believe, kind of over-simplify explanations for why the world is the way it is,” Derezotes said.

Social media is often a place people become hateful when discussing politics or other controversial topics, Utah State University freshman Jake Garrard said.

“If I am in a ZOOM call, if I am talking to someone face to face, I have a lot more of a productive conversation,” he said.

People should take a position of compassion and understanding before engaging in a debate or any type of heated discussion, Derezotes said.

“It is possible for two people to talk about anything, even if they strongly disagree, but it is also impossible for you to force me to be civil towards you, or for me to force you to civil towards me,” he said.

Professors are working to find ways for these types of discussions to still take place, Garrard and Forth agreed.

“A lot of my professors have disabled the text chat to prevent people from going on tangents and fighting in there and getting them to actually voice their concerns in a voice chat,” Garrard said.

It is important to be able to walk away, Forth said.

“I have seen a lot of people turn their passion into aggression,” she said.

People should not give up their efforts to understand people who are different, and to not confuse understanding others that are different with agreeing, Derezotes said.

“It is possible to treat people kindly who disagree with me and still not like them very much,” he said.