Dialogue Vanderbilt will advance civil discourse, bolster commitment to free expression

In a reaffirmation of its commitment to free expression, Vanderbilt University today launched Dialogue Vanderbilt. The initiative will provide a range of programs to students, faculty and the public to promote civil discourse and better understand and address political polarization. 

That polarization has made it hard to have tough-but-necessary conversations-on university campuses and beyond. Drawing on Vanderbilt’s strength as a national and global leader on free expression and civil discourse, Dialogue Vanderbilt aims to: 

  • Teach
    Vanderbilt will teach community members how to engage in civil discourse and equip them with the skills to become knowledgeable, participatory and perceptive citizens. Programs will include an array of learning opportunities for students as well as panels and webinars for the public. 
  • Research
    Through Dialogue Vanderbilt, researchers will explore how to strengthen free speech globally and develop practical, evidence-based solutions for addressing polarization. 
  • Lead
    As part of a broader effort to restore civil discourse in society, Dialogue Vanderbilt will seek partnerships with organizations that are committed to the same goal. From hosting leading scholars, policymakers and opinion leaders on campus to establishing relationships within K-12 schools to discuss diverging viewpoints, Vanderbilt will conduct programming to model how sharing and accepting differences of opinion can lead to transformative education, pathbreaking knowledge and stronger communities.

“Polarization has made it harder to have constructive conversations on college campuses, in the halls of government, and throughout American life,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “For universities, open, respectful conversations and debate are essential. They are fundamental to education and research-to personal and intellectual growth, to finding bold solutions to complex problems and to ensuring that all members of a university community feel they belong. Rooted in Vanderbilt’s long tradition of free expression, Dialogue Vanderbilt is designed to help restore civil discourse on our campus and beyond.” 

This fall, Dialogue Vanderbilt will host student-focused programming and a schedule of ongoing events for the Vanderbilt community and the public. Student activities will include group discussions to explore issues such as how to listen, how to navigate challenging and controversial conversations, how to advocate for issues of importance and how to disagree while maintaining civil dialogue.   

During nationally recognized Free Speech Week in October, a slate of events will bring high-profile guests to Vanderbilt’s campus to discuss the current state of free expression and civil discourse. A detailed schedule for Dialogue Vanderbilt’s Free Speech Week events will be announced later on the initiative’s website, vu.edu/dialogue

A steering committee representing a variety of expertise, backgrounds and areas of Vanderbilt’s campus came together to launch the initiative and help guide its programming and ideas. Members include:  

  • Jad Abumrad – founder, RadioLab; Distinguished Research Professor of Cinema & Media Arts and Communication of Science and Technology; senior advisor for communications and marketing  
  • G.L. Black – vice provost for student affairs and dean of students  
  • Steve Ertel – vice chancellor for communications and marketing
  • John Geer – senior advisor, Office of the Chancellor; founder, Center for Study of Democratic Institutions; founder, the Vanderbilt University Poll; lead, The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy  
  • Nathan Green – vice chancellor for government and community relations  
  • Sarah Igo – Andrew Jackson Chair in American History; professor of law; professor of political science; professor of sociology; dean of strategic initiatives, College of Arts and Science  
  • Jacob Mchangama – CEO, Justitia; executive director, Future of Free Speech Project; research professor  
  • Randi Mejia – executive director, transformative philanthropy and strategic initiatives, Development and Alumni Relations  
  • Tiffiny Tung – vice provost for undergraduate education, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Social and Natural Sciences, professor of anthropology 
  • Dawn Turton – chief of staff, Office of the Chancellor