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Loyola Launches Political Engagement Website to Encourage Dialogue

Courtesy of Natalie BattagliaA panel on the role of free speech and a free press in Damen Den was featured on the Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse page.

In response to the rise of student-run demonstrations in recent years, Loyola has established an Opportunities For Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse web page.

The web page launched on March 12 and reinforces sentiments voiced by Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney of increasing “civil engagement and model civil discourse,” according to Provost and Chief Academic Officer John Pelissero.

“We hope [faculty and students] find these resources helpful and they prompt you to become more active in subjects that are important to you,” Pelissero wrote in a statement to students and faculty. “These opportunities for discussion further support our commitment to address societal problems and advance knowledge and transformation.”

Fostered in collaboration between the School of Communication and the office of the Provost, the web page features opinion pieces written by Loyola staff, and a schedule of follow-up articles that highlight upcoming panels and keynote speaker events.

Student organizations will also be able submit their own events and panels to publish on the site, according to Provost of the Health Science Division Margaret Callahan.

For 19-year-old biology major and Women and Leadership member Theresa Colston, such an option would be a great opportunity.

“It would be good to have [it be] a place for a bunch of groups to come together … so that there’s more large, collected events rather than a bunch of side events,” said the first-year student.

But for 21-year-old political science major Jason Pica II, the former President of Black Students Matter LUC, such a feature would be useless to the organization, citing their messages as a risk to Loyola’s tax exempt status.

“As student activist groups, our notions may be too forthcoming for the University to publish on its website,” he said in a written statement to The PHOENIX. “I [would be] unsure if the reviewers will monitor language used or craft narratives.”

Pica shared a similar sentiment regarding the web page.

“As a hub of content spreading opportunities and thoughts, this page will be valuable … [but] at the end of the day, it is simply a website,” said the fourth-year student. “Continuing dialogue is necessary for us to further develop our inquisitions, but continuous dialogue without trial and error can be oppressive.”

However, School of Communications Dean Don Heider, who contributed one of his own editorials to the web page and gathered keynote speakers for an upcoming panel featured on the site, saw the best feature of the webpage as being a tool to arm political activism on campus.

“As students become a little more activist — which most of the faculty think is fantastic — what we want to do is make sure it gets funneled in a positive way so that it doesn’t go all to waste,” Heider said.

And students certainly have been active. In the last two school years alone, formal demonstrations have been held by chapters of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Students for Worker Justice (SWJ) and Loyola Black Voices (LBV).

That excludes a protest following the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump last January — which featured members from the African Student Alliance (ASA), the LUC Student Environmental Alliance and SWJ.

For Heider, the evolving student activity is thrilling.

“I’ve been on campus for 20 years, and I haven’t seen pretty much anything until the last couple of years,” he said. “A lot of the faculty who are here now were part of the demonstrations in the ‘70s and ‘60s … so they have an affinity to the stuff.”

But the relationship between student organizations have had some difficulties — Loyola administration and student organizations running protests have butted heads in previous years, albeit not over ideology. Two years ago, three students from the unofficial student group LBV were summoned to the Office of Student Conflict and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) over a “lack of organization registration and use of ‘amplified sound’ from megaphones,” though they were eventually dropped.

In lieu of those incidents, the university announced a new demonstration policy in March 2016 in collaboration with students that had since relaxed those restrictions.

Women’s Day co-chair Shanzeh Daudi, played a significant part in redrafting the demonstration policy two years ago and recalled a tension felt amongst pockets of students attempting to navigate the technicalities of organizing protests.

“There was never a fear, but there was always a wariness of being careful that things were being done in the right channels,” said the 21-year-old. “[Student organizations] don’t want to get in trouble, and don’t want to get their funding taken away.”

That being said, Daudi said the university has always been fairly accommodating and open to dialogue, especially when drafting the policy.

“[Policy] is never something that cannot be challenged, and something that we can never grow as a university,” she said. “We all want this to be easier and better for the people that come after us.”

Laura Brentner, an instructor of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability said the web page represents a nod by the administration to encourage political dialogue and a “shift in tone.”

“Last year, I don’t want to say intolerance, but … it felt like student protests and student activism was not really supported on campus … [and] the students that would organize those types of events were discouraged,” she said. “So it sort of feels like a change, that they are trying to promote healthy activism … and making sure that it is constructive.”

While it remains unclear as to how long the webpage will be supported, Callahan assured The PHOENIX in a written statement that the ideas for content were “by no means exhaustive” and that they would be “more than happy to add content.”

For now, Daudi said that the web page organizers adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

“I think [the web page] could be great … but I don’t want to give criticism toward something that was launched a week ago,” she said. “We really don’t know what it will do …. and we haven’t given it a chance for it to do what [ the site organizers] imagined it for.”

CORRECTION: The version of this article that appeared in the March 29 print issue of The PHOENIX incorrectly identified Shanzeh Daudi as the co-chair of the department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, listed Women and Leadership as having held a formal demonstration and listed the Department of Political Science as a contributor to the site. 

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