Community gathers to discuss safety and justice in a ‘deliberative dialogue’

Emily DeLetter

WKU students, faculty, staff and community members gathered on Tuesday to discuss safety and justice through a deliberative dialogue.

The event, hosted by the WKU Center for Citizenship and Social Justice, or CCSJ, was a vehicle of conversation for attendees to discuss various aspects of the issues. Beginning with a brief presentation and a short video describing safety and justice in communities, moderators lead individual groups in a variety of discussions.

CCSJ Director Leah Ashwill said the dialogue would be “looking for ways the community can reduce violence.”

“Violence is a very broad topic,” Ashwill said. “This [deliberative dialogue] is about situations with citizens and police that result in violence, and race relations are definitely a part of the conversation.”  

The deliberative dialogue method was first developed by the American Democracy Project, created for people to have conversations on socially divisive and controversial topics. Ashwill, who is trained in deliberative dialogue, said it is not a debate but rather a conversation that encourages open-mindedness.

Each discussion group was led by a neutral moderator also trained in deliberative dialogue.

Louisville freshman Amanda Beavin was one of the moderators for the event.

“There were a lot of students at my table, so police engagement with students on campus was a big topic,” Beavin said. “We discussed how students feel disconnected from campus police and ways to encourage conversations.”

Conversations were divided into three options to discuss possible solutions for safety and justice in communities. The first was “enforcing the law together,” the second was “applying the law fairly,” and the third was “de-escalate and prevent violence.”

Although the dialogue was geared towards police and community relations, Ashwill said issues such as school shootings, domestic violence and sexual assault could also be brought into the conversation.

WKU Chief of Police Mitchell Walker attended the deliberative dialogue and said his table’s conversation included ways for police to build a better relationship with their community.

“There are a lot of disparities between the way people of color are unlawfully stopped and incarcerated,” Walker said. “Talking [with students] reinforced the trust communities have with police.”

Each group shared their findings about the best way to approach safety and justice in their community with the other attendees.

Ideas about lowering the charge for minor crimes, using body cameras as a way to increase transparency and trust and the importance of a diverse and fairly paid police force in communities were presented by groups.

Ashwill said she hopes to host another deliberative dialogue in the future with the discussion topic coming out of Tuesday’s conversation. The CCSJ previously held a deliberative dialogue on the topic of climate change. This session’s attendees suggested a possible deliberative dialogue about gun safety or issues with the United States’ penal system.

“We want students to determine what they want our campus to talk about in terms of violence,” Ashwill said.

News reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyDeLetter.