The WKU Center for Citizenship and Social Justice, or CCSJ, hosted an open discussion about the effects of global climate change on Thursday afternoon.
“Embracing Our Elephants” was held in the style of deliberative dialogue. Around 50 students, faculty and staff members participated, sitting around tables and answering questions with the help of a moderator. This was the first forum hosted by CCSJ on climate change that was held in this style.
Director of CCSJ Leah Ashwill chose to host the forum by using deliberative dialogue after she learned of the method from the American Democracy Project, a network of “colleges and universities focused on public higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy,” according to their website.
Ashwill and a colleague flew to Washington, D.C. in April to be trained as moderators for deliberative dialogue. Ashwill said it was the method she had been looking for, and found the best way to implement it on WKU’s campus was through training student moderators.
“It’s an important skill set to have,” Ashwill said. “Learning this method helps prepare students to discuss issues in the real world.”
The event began with a brief explanation of how the deliberative dialogue would work, followed by a short video explaining the harm of climate change.
WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan briefly spoke to participants before the dialogue began, addressing WKU’s role in climate change and sustainability.
According to Ryan, electricity is the largest use of greenhouse gasses on WKU’s campus. Ryan said WKU has made efforts to reduce electricity on campus, but could still stand to improve.
“Climate change doesn’t seem to be a topic of conversation at WKU,” Ryan said. “Other colleges and universities are responding more proactively than we are.”
During the deliberative dialogue, each table was moderated by a student trained to help facilitate conversation.
Lexington freshman Adam Rogers agreed to help moderate the event after it was brought to his attention by two professors. Rogers also serves on the sustainability council for SGA.
As moderator, Rogers remained neutral during the event.
“Climate change is something that people from all sides have misconceptions about,” Rogers said. “My hope is that people will keep an open mind and embrace new ideas about climate change.”
Handouts and guides to help with information about climate change were also available at each of the tables during the event.
Groups discussed ways to implement three main options during the deliberative dialogue. The first option was to “sharply reduce carbon emissions,” the second to “prepare and protect our communities,” and the third to “accelerate innovation”.
Franklin freshman Fallon Russell said she came for a class, but felt drawn to this event more than any other events she saw on a list.
“Climate change is a prevalent issue,” Russell said. “Talking care of Earth is really important for the long term.”
Toward the end of the event, each table presented which option they believed to be the most useful in regards long long-term climate change.
Groups spoke about the importance of education regarding climate change, ways to become more energy efficient and the use of technology to encourage resource reduction.
Kate McElroy, a graduate assistant for CCSJ, said she expected a variety of opinions to be present regarding climate change.
“There are people who are structured to their approach to climate change, and people who are more up in the air,” McElroy said. “It’s important to have a diverse group to have a productive conversation.”
Reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.