By Kevin Garcia-Galindo, DCI Fellow
For my DCI Fellowship Project, I decided to center on the issues of diversity and inclusion that have been so pertinent on campus throughout my time at Davidson. I, however, chose to experiment more with different kinds of deliberations.
Specifically, my DCI project centered on something very different from the goals of the DCI’s usual style of deliberation. My project could be categorized as an enclave deliberation, meaning that there was a clear selection bias that I took into account when I chose my participants. The goal of my deliberation was not to try to change anyone’s opinions but rather to encourage the dispersion of ideas within a group who all share one common characteristic.
Research often gives the practice of enclave deliberation a bad name. Some question how if it is so easy to wall oneself off from views from the other side (through who you follow on social media or which cable news stations you watch, for example), then why should we focus any more on bringing similarly minded people together? Moreover, political scientists often argue that enclave deliberation can lead to increased group polarization.
Enclave deliberation, however, is the most common type of deliberation we encounter in daily life, and it is a fundamental part of a healthy working democracy. This is because most of us learn about our own stances and positions from people who are most like us. Furthermore, because enclave deliberations tend to be less formal and structured, more people tend to be more comfortable attending them, especially with how much work a more structured deliberation can seem to require.
I believe my DCI personal project proves that enclave deliberations do not have to encourage political polarization, and even more, enclave deliberations can actually lead to a broad diffusion of diverse ideas even when most of the members share at least one major characteristic together.
For my personal project, the point of connection for all my participants was that they were all part of the Chidsey Leadership Fellows program. As a Fellow myself, I knew that If I wanted to talk about diversity and inclusion with student campus leaders, then there was no better way to do this than to talk directly with the group on campus that focuses on forming a group of diverse leaders. Moreover, I knew that because of the high level of diversity within Chidsey Leadership, they would be disproportionately more likely to have been affected by recent controversies on campus.
To give a short synopsis of these issues: Students in the past year have expressed resentment towards Davidson’s administration because they have perceived some of its decisions as disproportionately and negatively affecting low-income, first-generation, gender and racial minority students. From the current controversy around the administration preventing Dining Dollars being used to buy Plan B, and the past controversies that came and went, such as the movement to add Asian Studies as a major, the petition to change the name of Chambers, and the ruckus that was caused when students heard that our Summit coffee shop could be shut down, many students on campus believe that the administration takes issues of diversity and inclusion far too lightly. As a first gen person of color (POC) student myself, I was privy to a lot of the conversations that happened directly around these issues, and I can confirm they reinforced many of the feelings about how POC were being valued on campus.
The issue, however, was not that there was not enough communication between administration and students, but rather what I personally saw was that there was not enough communication among affinity groups and students for them to be able to reach common ground on these issues. Student government and the quotidian student petition of the day signaled to me that there was already enough student-administration communication; whether it was effective was not something I could really determine or had the energy to do.
As a result, I instead focused on creating an enclave deliberation where I could bring together this already close-knit group to discuss an issue that they were all being affected by. A difference I would point out between what I did here as opposed to the kind of enclave deliberation that most of the research points to is that my participants only related to each other in one specific way as opposed to sharing a multitude of characteristics. As a result, I am more inclined to call this a hybrid style of deliberation that had characteristics of both a more structured and broad-based style of deliberation and an enclave deliberation.
The goal of my deliberation was not necessarily to change anyone’s mind but to encourage people from different groups to share their own perspectives on an issue that affects all of them. The defining difference between what I did here and a more traditional deliberation is that I did not focus on discussing whether diversity and inclusion is an issue to begin with, but rather I focused on bringing together people who had already reached that conclusion and instead focused on encouraging them to work together to find solutions.
Spending so much time on just discussing the validity of an issue and never getting to proposing a solution is something that you see ad nauseam in many kinds of debates. For example, we often see this dynamic in debates around abortion where the pro-life and pro-choice sides never change their opinions but rather opt instead only to make small adjustments to their proposals. Consider how pro-life advocates who believe that abortion is immoral in all cases concede allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest, or how even pro-choice absolutists sometimes concede banning the most invasive and late-term types of abortions. Rarely is there anyone brave enough to concede more than is necessary to still come out winning.
But what happens when the most common proposals are not so concretely defined? Or when the topic is centered directly at giving those who normally do not have an outlet a chance to speak? What I think you get is an enclave deliberation where you truly get the chance to work together to find solutions and proposals.
Some may critique my thinking by saying that this kind of deliberation is not very effective at bringing the complete spectrum of ideas into discussion and that no meaningful consensus can ever be found unless you bring together people who represent the entire spectrum of possible views. To this I respond by saying that the task of my deliberation was not to start and end the debate around diversity and inclusion, but rather it was to create an effective starting point for a future more-representative deliberation.
I am very aware that there is still a lot of dialogue that needs to happen, but I take my project to represent a starting point for students to be better equipped to engage with the administration robustly, thoughtfully, and productively by first deliberating among themselves. Without this type of enclave conversation, I think it would be hard to be able to move very far in an actual deliberation between the administration and students.
What I think my deliberation proves is that there can exist many ways to maneuver through a difficult issue using structured deliberation as a tool. The approach we took represents an important way to do so that brings together different stakeholders who may not otherwise have the opportunity to reflect on their shared objectives.