LETTER: Unlikely allies
Groups with opposing viewpoints can and have hosted bi-partisan dialogue on controversial issues such as abortion
One of the most valuable aspects of a university environment is the opportunity to engage in discussions and debates that expand our world views beyond those that surround us on a daily basis. But be honest, how often do you go out of your way to consider the merits of an opposing social or political viewpoint?
Firm in our views on abortion, we at Feminism is for Everyone (FIFE) and Hoos for Life were frequently surrounded only by those who agreed with one another. Meeting in our respective clubs often led to reiterating the same conclusions rather than expanding our understandings of the debate to other perspectives. In light of this, we wanted to break the mold of preaching to the choir and designed an innovative event unlike any other we had previously attended. Sure, we may disagree, but rarely do we stop to think about why this is the case and how we came to develop our contrasting opinions in the first place.
Instead of hosting a debate, which might have escalated hostility rather than facilitated conversation, we crafted a forum featuring small roundtable discussions to foster personal interaction. The Nov. 18 event in the Newcomb South Meeting Room drew more than 50 participants, including members from the greater Charlottesville community, and many who were neither involved with FIFE nor Hoos for Life.
Discussions considered topics like science vs. religion; policy vs. culture; social issues like race relations and domestic abuse; and health and safety. The whole idea was to move beyond the battleground, beyond hostility and debate, into dialogue and discussion. To that end, as a concluding thought we asked each group to brainstorm areas where activists of varying opinions on the abortion issue might be able to find common ground. Groups reported back with a shared motive to preserve the health and safety of women in society.
Issues so politically relevant as reproductive health rights deserve to be examined at the interpersonal level so national media sources do not steamroll and oversimplify the discussion. The stigma and silence attached to abortion, in particular, and the seeming Manichean divide around which it is so often structured, are barriers we aim to deconstruct starting at the campus level. It is our hope that this collaboration will spur future bipartisan activity at the University.
Chaney Mullins is a fourth-year Architecture student and an affiliate of Hoos for Life. Alison Filler is a fourth-year College student and the president of Feminism is for Everyone.