by: Michael Morrison and Katie Cannon
Reflections from the CFI Program Manager team…
As a new member of the CFI staff, a double Duke, and a person who grew up in the Harrisonburg community, attending my first Flashpoint was an exciting event. As a student at JMU over the last three years, I was only vaguely aware of Flashpoints – hearing about the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street events – and never made the time to attend. Reflecting on yesterday’s Flashpoint: War on Women, I’m disappointed I didn’t make more of an effort to attend previous events.
What a privilege it is to live in a place where students, staff, faculty, and members of the community can all come together to share expertise and insight into problems we face as a culture. Those groups came together last night to have a calm conversation on a current – and controversial – topic. I heard student voices raised to ask questions of the expertise on the panel and to tell their professors and their peers what bothers them most about the issue. A member of the community offered up questions about how the divide between language – groups in the know about language and those who are not – can be at odds over the use of language. I learned from an adjunct in the audience of a book to track down and read. And from our panelists, I heard faculty in a range of disciplines, from a variety of backgrounds, speaking to an engaged audience and offering not only their insights and expertise but also asking for feedback and questions.
The issues raised last night are difficult and complex – and as one student commented, it is difficult in a two-hour forum to do much more than inform and scratch the surface. But everyone there last night can walk away thinking, reflecting, and knowing a little more than when we started. It’s a pleasure to be a part of making these events happen. And as we talked about privilege and power and education and opportunity last evening, I can’t help but return to the thought that I’m privileged to be a part of this community – JMU and Harrisonburg – where such conversations are accessible and awareness is part of our identity.
As a student I attended my first Flashpoint, Flashpoint: Egypt and it was an incredible experience. There were professors from various departments, students, and concerned community members who all gathered together to discuss the Egyptian revolution. When I started working for the CFI, I knew that I wanted to help create more of these events.
My fascination with Flashpoints does not even lie in the topics themselves—but rather in the theory behind the event. Very few opportunities exist for faculty, students, and community members to come together and truly discuss controversial issues. I don’t just mean people with a bunch of opinions come together and share their own view—I mean a forum for people to truly wrestle with issues that are complex and controversial. Flashpoints help make that possible.
When Mary Gayne and Beth Eck came to us about starting Flashpoint: War on Women, I was thrilled. However, pulling of a Flashpoint in a short amount of time was a little more complex than I thought it would be—especially because of the speed at which the whole process moves. Once a faculty member suggests a topic it’s full speed ahead to make the best event possible within a two-week period.
In my opinion, though, all that hard work is worth it. Because events like Flashpoints are steps towards people debating and deliberating and disagreeing in a civil way—which is really what democracy is all about.
If you have an idea for a Flashpoint — please let us know.