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The University of Pittsburgh is launching a new discussion series called All Angles, which will welcome speakers to help explore some of society’s biggest questions and toughest topics. Shaped by and hosted exclusively for students, the series is designed to show participants how to navigate disparate perspectives, challenge the status quo and engage in civil discourse.
“Creating an environment where the priority is the student experience is important,” said Samantha Balbier, who’s overseeing the initiative and directs the Institute of Politics and the Elsie Hillman Civic Forum. “The goal is to introduce our students to different leadership perspectives and create a space for thought-provoking discussions. Navigating divides in how we think and the values we hold can be challenging — but it’s a skill that is increasingly necessary and relevant in modern society that will benefit both professional and personal relationships.”
Each moderated discussion will feature two scholars offering differing perspectives on issues like economic opportunity and equality, climate change, immigration, the pandemic, racial equity and democracy. These subjects polled high in importance among 1,300 Pitt students surveyed by the University last year. Their input helped frame the series’ development. The discussion format will encourage students to develop their own conclusions on the subject matter and ask questions of the speakers.
All Angles will include four sessions per academic year to examine topics from perspectives reflecting the political diversity of the University and its regional communities. The series kicked off with national political reporter Salena Zito and BridgeUSA CEO Manu Meel on Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m. in the William Pitt Union Ballroom.
“I think this program is going to be very important,” said Zito, a Pittsburgh native, author and columnist who’s interviewed every president and vice president in the 21st century. “In recent years, we’ve done a better job of discussing racial and sexual diversity, but we need to ensure we include cultural diversity and different points of view. It’s something I did when I taught at Harvard and Washington and Lee that I’m excited to bring to my hometown.”
Meel became inspired to change how young people talk politics as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2018, he joined student-led BridgeUSA after witnessing “how apathetic, pessimistic and hopeless many young people felt,” he said. For him, BridgeUSA — a national organization that empowers youth to bridge divides and fight polarization — and All Angles have synergies in their missions and values.
“We’re essentially shifting the norms around political engagement so young people feel they can actively choose empathy and dialogue over division and divisiveness,” Meel said. “Our objective, as with All Angles, is not necessarily that we compromise or unify around issues, but better understand those issues. If we can’t trust, empathize or understand the lived experiences of other people, then we’re in a very tough place.”
Meel praised the University’s BridgeUSA Pittsburgh chapter, one of the first 10 chapters in the nation, for its efforts.
“I work very closely with Bridge Pittsburgh students and staff who are doing awesome work,” he said. “What they and the University are focused on has culminated into this desire for people to hear different perspectives. Something we see across the country, at university campuses and in society at large is people looking for avenues to be able to listen and empathize.”
Students are also excited about the opportunities All Angles will present.
“All students, regardless of their majors or schools, should attend this event to see the power of dialogue and civic discussion in action at Pitt,” said sophomore Jack Ruotolo, Bridge Pittsburgh’s president. The politics and philosophy major joined the organization in the hope of discovering like-minded students dedicated to civic dialogue on college campuses.
“Using dialogue effectively to engage with people you disagree with is a skill that can be learned and is vital for college students preparing to secure jobs and engage in society,” said Ruotolo, who also serves on the Student Government Board Elections Committee. “There can never be enough examples of productive discourse on display, and I am confident that All Angles will deliver on this.”
Students who attend the series will earn Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) credit. Register to reserve your spot today.
— Kara Henderson
This story has been updated.