McDaniel professor delving into civility and how it can get in the way of intercultural discourse

Michel Elben
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

McDaniel College’s Global Issues Colloquium, a community discussion that is free and open to the public, is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, February 20 in McDaniel’s Decker Center Forum.

After a brief presentation, all attendees are invited to participate in a conversation. This semester’s event is titled “The Problem with Civility: Being Less ‘Decent’ and Building Better Bridges for a Global Community,” which examines how civility isn’t conducive to world peace because we all speak different cultural languages and how being civil/polite often erases difference.

Erin Watley, assistant professor of communication and cinema at McDaniel, will present at the annual Global Issues Colloquium. Watley teaches about the complexities of intercultural communication in globalized societies and has worked to help students address conflicts by developing and applying critical intercultural dialogue techniques.

The Times caught up with Watley to learn more about the event.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the work you do at McDaniel?

A: I am an assistant professor in the Communication & Cinema department at McDaniel, where I teach classes that use communication principles to examine culture, media, and qualitative research.

My specialty area is in intercultural communication, and ultimately I think that all of my work at McDaniel promotes critical cultural awareness and stresses how our everyday experiences and beliefs are connected to bigger societal trends and values. I explore those connections by focusing my classes on topics like sports media, cultural identities, and difficult conversations. Whatever the topic of focus, through my classes, I encourage students to step out of their comfort zones, listen to other viewpoints, be critical of their own perspectives, and apply what they have learned outside of the classroom.

I am also the assistant director of the Honors Program and advisor for Curl Friends, a student organization at McDaniel that celebrates and spreads awareness about natural hair.

Q: What are you planning to focus on during the presentation?

A: In the presentation, I would like to challenge assumptions about civility, talk about how the enforcement of that concept does not always uphold the good-intentioned spirit that it is assumed to represent, and discuss some ways to better uphold the principles that are associated with civility.

Q: What are some problems with civility that you hope to discuss?

A: I plan to approach this from both a local and global perspective.

In a local sense, discussions about politics — both national and local, community — and political engagement are always closely aligned with ideas of civility. When conflict arises responses are often centered on the “civility” of the discourse and exchange. More attention is put on how messages are delivered rather than solving the problems at the root of the issue, so there is no resolution. This misdirection to “civility” also tends to perpetuate the restriction and oppression of marginalized individuals and groups who actually need more advocacy and support.

From a more global perspective, our own American or Western ideas of civility can play a big role in our perceptions of people from other nations and cultures. Those assessments then influence policy decisions, popular narratives, and charitable practices to the point where our well-intentioned acts cause harm.

Q: What are you hoping listeners will learn from or get out of the discussion?

A: I hope those participating in the discussion will come away having learned about civility in a new way. This presentation will challenge those in attendance to practice skills that challenge the more traditional and restrictive practices of “civility,” especially in dealing with situations of cultural conflict.

Q: What is one change people could make to “build better bridges”?

A: Get a little more comfortable with their own discomfort in situations with conflict, and to listen more to the experiences and needs of others.


If You Go

What: McDaniel College Global Issue Colloquium

When: 6 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 20

Where: Decker Center Forum (Decker College Center), McDaniel College, Westminster

Cost: Free

Call 410-857-2461 for more information.


michel.elben@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7873

twitter.com/MichelElben

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°