Agora Fellows do democracy better

Two dozen Carolina students from different political ideologies promote constructive dialogue on campus. 

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Hearing “Democrat” or “Republican” is something that prompts many people to quickly end the conversation, but the mention of politics draws Carolina junior Sarah Crow in closer.

“If we don’t teach college students how to engage productively, civilly, respectfully, then we won’t be able to engage in the real world,” Crow said. “The purpose of a university is to talk about ideas, debate ideas in the pursuit of truth. And yet that happens on a pretty small scale. It’s imperative that we learn how to talk to each other, and how to listen to each other.”

In an era where the goal of many political conversations is shutting down the opposing viewpoint, Crow wants to create an environment where students of differing perspectives can share their opinions constructively while recognizing each other’s humanity.

That’s why she joined the Agora Fellows, a group of more than two dozen ideologically diverse Carolina students working to promote constructive political dialogue on campus.

“Our mission is a little broader,” said Kevin Marinelli, the executive director of the Program for Public Discourse and a teaching associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ communication department. “It’s not committed to a particular political ideology. The commitment is to doing democracy better. What we want to do simply is to give students the tools to talk about things more productively.”

A key way the Agora Fellows hope to accomplish that is planning and facilitating political discussions on campus with a focus on keeping the conversation respectful. That includes the Tar Heel Town Hall, “What is Our Responsibility to Diversity at UNC After Affirmative Action?” on Nov. 17.

The Agora Fellows’ goal is to continue hosting events like this and working to create a culture where students and other groups on campus feel comfortable speaking up and knowing how to disagree respectfully.

“What really made me want to join Agora was that it wasn’t explicitly selecting for one set of views or one explicit focus,” said Aidan Buehler, a junior and member of the Agora Fellows.

“Just being able to go out there and put on events to offer a counter-narrative to show that we can actually disagree and even have a good time doing it — that can go a long way towards giving people hope, really.”