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On Hot-Button Issue, Forum Promotes Civil Conversations

Vancouver Community Library has been hosting events aimed at making political discussions more civil. (Ellen Rogers/WSU-Vancouver)
Vancouver Community Library has been hosting events aimed at making political discussions more civil. (Ellen Rogers/WSU-Vancouver)
April 25, 2018

VANCOUVER, Wash. - During this National Week of Conversation, Americans are exploring how to have civil dialogue about the hot-button and often emotional political issues that divide the country. A Vancouver library that has been trying this out for years is hosting a forum on immigration today.

At the event, people will break into small groups to discuss immigration policy. Ellen Rogers, associate director of the Initiative for Public Deliberation at Washington State University-Vancouver, which is co-sponsoring the event, said these discussions are meant to mend a widening gap in the way people speak to each other.

"You need to come into these sessions with an open mind, and be willing to listen to and speak to other people, and listen to their values and their experiences," she said. "And then, they can help you to have a deeper understanding of the issue."

The forum, called "Coming to America," begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Vancouver Community Library and is free to the public. Last week, the library hosted a panel discussion about how immigration policy works in Clark County. The format of this week's forum is based on guidelines from the National Issues Forums Institute, which also is sponsoring the event.

As branch manager of the library, Jackie Spurlock has overseen discussions like this. Along with healing the divide, she said, people are can learn from each other's points of view.

"The idea is not to get people to change their minds," she said. "It is to help everyone have a broader, maybe a more nuanced, view of the issues that matter in our community."

Past library forum topics include criminal justice and affordable housing. Spurlock said attendees enjoy that there isn't a foregone conclusion about these issues at the meetings, which helps them listen and engage with their neighbors more meaningfully.

National Week of Conversation events are listed online at nationalweekofconversation.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA