Concordia students participate in OC Forum panel event

The Concordia Courier

Concordia Irvine

By Eva Prewitt | 11/11/2022

On Thurs., Oct. 6, a pair of Concordia scholars met with other students from colleges around Orange County to participate in OC Forum’s “Saving the Dream: Fostering Civil Discourse.” This is an event dedicated to discussion, learning and understanding of the many different viewpoints in American culture. 

The event was moderated by Arianna Barrios, the executive director of the OC Forum, and hosted a special guest, Dr. Ben Judge, the Co-Founder of Polity, an organization aiming to “[change] the way Americans engage in politics.” They opened the event by discussing the general breakdown of civil discourse in society and the importance of engaging with individuals of differing opinions. They also discussed Polity’s Decision Point Method and how the organization uses its mission to bridge political divisions.

It was after this point that Barrios moderated a discussion between eight students, including Concordia undergraduates Benjamin Wagner, junior, and Brody Rezen, freshman. 

“The way the event was formatted, we were put in the shoes of a policymaker in a particular situation and then needed to find the optimal solution,” said Wagner. “To give you an example, one of the prompts was, ‘You are a U.S. Senator. A major ongoing cyber-attack has led the President to propose taking control of social media companies for 30 days to minimize potential misinformation nationwide. Do you support the president?’” I responded by saying that under no circumstances would I support a government takeover of the media, and consequently, I would not support the president.”

The panelists often disagreed with each other on topics, due to the fact that many of the individuals came from differing political backgrounds and held different beliefs. Additionally, the topics were intentionally chosen to be controversial. Hot-button issues such as gun rights and gun control, military spending and funding, immigration and the ongoing fentanyl epidemic were all on the table.

“The topics were chosen to demonstrate and process by which people of diverse viewpoints can discuss issues in a civil manner, using facts and information to support their views rather than resorting to emotional and uncivil argumentation,” said Dr. Jo Ellen Chatham, Concordia’s  Director of the Center for Civics Education, and Board Member on the OC Forum. “In short, the program featured students from several universities demonstrating a method of civil discussion and decision-making.  The process places students in a position of a decision-maker (i.e., mayor, congressman, etc.).  The students are asked to state their view on a particular issue. Then, they are presented with new information for discussion, including the potential consequences of their original position. Does this new information cause them to moderate or change their position, or not?”

 “In short, the issues chosen for the demonstration were to be examples of how this process works,” Chatham summarized.

Both Rezen and Wagner felt as though the discussions were extremely fulfilling.

“I felt comfortable in the event. These topics are right in my ballpark and getting to discuss issues with other minds was awesome…I was able to speak my mind on each one and I took away a lot at the end of the session,” said Rezen.

“All in all, I found that there is much more that unites us Americans than what divides us,” said Wagner. “There are disagreements, don’t get me wrong. But when we sit down and have meaningful conversations with reasonable people, there will be ways to find common ground.”

Chatham believed that the event was a rousing success, but that there is still work to be done if we hope to heal the division and lack of civility in America. 

“I believe the event was a good demonstration of a process that can assist in civil discourse,” she said. “To that end, I believe it was successful. Nevertheless, the lack of civility in our country and how we treat each other is much deeper than utilizing effective discussion techniques. While such techniques are helpful, it is more important that we truly respect others as individuals and God's children and treat each other accordingly.”

The OC Forum’s next event is on Thurs., Nov. 17, and will feature Chief Economist Steven Thomas and the organization’s panel of experts discussing responses to the current housing market forecast. Tickets to that event can be purchased here:


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