Civil discourse symposium to focus on immigration issues

Drew Schertzer

Immigration and migrant crises continue to be hot-button issues. To foster discussion of these topics, Grand Valley State University will host a civil discourse symposium at the L.V. Eberhard Center.

The event, “Immigrants and Refugees: Celebrating our Diversity,” will take place Thursday, Nov. 2, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. There will be three panelists, including visiting professor of philosophy Mladjo Ivanovic; Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities Program Director Steffanie Rosale; and the program manager for Bethany Christian Services’ refugee adult and family programs, Kristine Van Noord. The trio will answer questions for about an hour. 

“I think this year is more about recognizing and celebrating diversity,” said Nicole Brower, a staff member in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies. “It’s about what makes us all diverse and what we can add to each other’s worlds.” 

Brower said the symposium is geared to bring GVSU faculty, staff and the nearby community together. According to her, communication between faculty and staff will be mutually beneficial. The event allows faculty and staff to grow together. 

While Brower helped to coordinate the event, the symposium is created by the holder of the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professorship of Civil Discourse. The endowed professor was previously Lisa Perhamus, and this year it is Jack Mangala, a professor of African/African-American studies and political science.

Every two years, a new professor is chosen. It is their job to put together a three-credit class and to organize a corresponding symposium. The class Mangala created is IDS 350, “Immigration: Think Global — Act Local.” Students from this class will prepare the questions to ask the panelists. 

Mangala spoke about the relevance of having the symposium. 

“The growing number of immigrants is impacting our communities negatively and positively,” he said. “We need a safe space to openly and respectively discuss issues.”

Mangala will be the facilitator for the symposium. He said a challenge he and his students faced was getting the students engaged with the community. It can be tough to identify community partners and people who can come to class and talk with the students. The students in Mangala’s class are trying to engage with the community and work with immigrants and refugees. 

At the symposium, participants can sit down at several tables that will be situated around the room. Students from Mangala’s class and advisory board members will be at all of the tables to lead discussions. A light, complimentary dinner will be available around 5 p.m., and panelists will be asked questions, followed by small group talks. In the groups, participants will answer four questions about issues pertaining to immigration, refugees and things the panelists said. The evening will end with a discussion between the groups and panelists. 

“Civil discourse is for everyone,” Brower said. She encouraged students from any background or major to attend the event. She believes civil discourse comes from drawing ideas from multiple disciplines and learning together from that. 

Mangala said the symposium after the presidential election last year was focused on the refugees themselves. People know the pros and cons of having refugees here, Mangala said. This year’s talk will instead focus more on working with immigrants and what motivates them. According to Mangala, it’s about what drives them and how they make our community better.