Westmont Program Promotes Public Dialogue

Drs. Deborah Dunn and Rachel Winslow

Drs. Deborah Dunn and Rachel Winslow

Two Westmont professors seek to encourage dialogue on difficult issues in the local community. Deborah Dunn, professor of communication studies, and Rachel Winslow, director of the Westmont Center for Social Entrepreneurship and assistant professor of history, have created the Westmont Initiative for Public Dialogue and Deliberation to encourage citizens to participate in our democracy and work together to solve “wicked problems.”

WIPDD hosts a conversation about immigration, “Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?” on Thursday, Nov. 1, from 7-9 p.m. in Karpeles Manuscript Library. Community members may register to participate on a first-come, first-served basis by email at wipdd@westmont.edu.

Dunn and Winslow have spent a year serving as research fellows with the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio, to prepare for this work. “Our mission is to work with neighbors to speak and listen well together about challenges facing the Santa Barbara community to promote our common good and human flourishing,” Dunn says.

“By facilitating these discussions, we hope to equip students and neighbors with the tools they need to cultivate healthy conversation and careful listening,” Winslow says.

Dr. Dunn speaks at a stakeholder meeting in Santa Maria

Dr. Dunn speaks at a stakeholder meeting in Santa Maria

On Nov. 1, the group will use a framework established by the National Issues Forums Institute to raise a number of difficult questions with no easy answers:

  • Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?
  • Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?
  • Should we accept more of the growing numbers of refugees from war-torn regions, or should we avoid the risk of allowing in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?
  • Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life, including learning English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

“The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels like conservative or liberal,” Dunn says. “We want to help people frame issues well.”

Dunn and Winslow held the first community conversation in Santa Barbara in April to examine how the region cares for its vulnerable children, focusing on the foster care system. An event in Santa Maria July 12 addressed the same issue.

They seek broad representation from groups providing services to immigrants and with vested interest in the issue. They will meet with various stakeholders ahead of time and involve them in conversation.