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Fireside Chat creates space for civil political discussion

Photo by Gage Skidmore This week’s Fireside Chat featured discussion on the election. Joe Biden won the election.

UNK’s Fireside Chats have transitioned to Zoom. Every month, UNK students can voice their opinions on current politics.

The Fireside Chat organizers encourage any students to participate.

“You shouldn’t be concerned about having some in-depth knowledge of politics,” said William Aviles, professor and chair of UNK’s political science department and the Fireside Chat’s host. “We are open to anyone coming to these discussions who is interested in the topic and wants to talk about them.”

Formerly held in the Nebraskan Student Union, UNK’s Fireside Chats have made the electronic leap. The first week of every month, the UNK Department of Political Science faculty holds a Zoom meeting starting at 12:20 p.m. and ending near 1:10 p.m. In the 50-minute block, discussions on current events are held and debated by both the faculty and any students wanting to join or participate. 

Topics of discussion can be anything political. From gerrymandering to the United States’ Electoral College, students are encouraged to share their opinions and criticisms in an open environment for all. Students are not interrupted or cut off by other members of the group, which  helps facilitate a positive and relaxing setting for political discourse.

The Fireside Chat organizers want to model their group off of the methods they use day-to-day in the classroom.

“The more we model that, the more people will be able to take that model into their everyday life; model civil discourse,” said Diane Duffin, a political science professor at UNK and Fireside Chat organizer. 

With current events and the presidential race, the group had a lot to discuss last Friday. 

The topics ranged from Bernie Sanders and populism to the benefits and drawbacks of the Electoral College. Although a lot of discussion in the meeting can be heated points for many, participants stayed civil, even when disagreeing. Aviles and Duffin want to keep the discourse civil at all times, even when the debate may be getting more passionate. So far, they have not had any fights or uncontrollable arguments, but with the presidential race results, they could see a new surge of students wanting to voice their opinions. 

Students who want to join or observe are encouraged to do so by Duffin, Aviles and the rest of the participants. The faculty are understanding if a student wants to observe without participating. Though it may not be as easy as walking into the NSU, the Fireside Chats are open and can be accessed through Zoom during their meeting time. If students want to learn more, they can contact Aviles, Duffin or Joan Blauwkamp from the UNK Department of Political Science.

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