Depolarizing the College Campus with Free Intelligent Conversation
The first time I learned about Free Intelligent Conversation was at the 2018 BridgeUSA Summit. Attendees spent a lot of time discussing the powerful emotions (and occasional hostilities) associated with controversial issues on many college campuses. We all agreed it is necessary to find a way of introducing friendly dialogue, in order to produce constructive discourse.
Now, at first, I thought Free Intelligent Conversation was a bit far-fetched. Standing around with a huge sign seemed a bit obnoxious and exaggerated. But after talking it over with the officers in our club, we ended up seeing it as a great marketing strategy. If the activity wasn’t popular, it could at least draw some attention towards our cause for civil discourse.
Based on this perspective, my expectations ended up being pretty bleak at my first Free Intelligent Conversation event. Here I was, standing apprehensively in our college’s courtyard with a huge sign in front of students I went to class with. While looking at my watch, waiting for the time to go by, a young man dressed in flannel noticed my sign and changed his course towards my direction. When he arrived, he and I began my first
We started our conversation with a FreeIC card that asked, “What advice would you give to your 10-year-old self?” After a pensive moment, he started piecing together a hypothetical piece of advice. I started listening to him and thought, “OK, this isn’t awful.”
We started sharing our own childhood experiences and realized that we both grew up in very large families. We also talked about our differing politics and how my life experiences abroad had provided me with new perspectives. In contrast, he shared his own experience as coming from a rural town and how this shaped his own ideologies.
At this point, I lost track of time and the apprehension I had beforehand. We had a great conversation about our journey of faith and family experiences. After about 45 minutes, we exchanged contact information so we could continue our conversation in the future.
Looking back, I realize that this young man and I never would have talked if it hadn’t been for that encounter. He was a completely different major, age, and political ideology than I, and quite frankly, would have never made it into my friend circle. However, despite this, there was something incredibly organic about our interaction. We talked about controversial issues so nonchalantly and naturally that there was no forced dialogue, no monitoring, and no need for guidelines. There was an assumed respect for one another that guided our conversation.
This was my “Eureka” moment to the challenge of improving dialogue we had spent so much time talking about at the BridgeUSA summit. It totally made sense! You can’t initiate a conversation about controversial issues off the bat…you need to get to know the person first. By the way, as a Communication major, I have to say that this insight goes along so well with Uncertainty Reduction Theory :)
Free Intelligent Conversation helped pave the path for our club’s success. Our club was recently recognized as Heterodox Academy’s 2019 Outstanding Group and has established itself as an important contributor to fostering a more inclusive, engaging, and educational campus climate. If you are interested in making this happen at your college, then give FreeIC a try!
Anthony Lusardi is a founding member of Linn-Benton Community College’s Civil Discourse Club. He is currently a Senior pursuing a Communication major and President of Oregon State University’s BridgeUSA chapter.