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Promoting Civil Dialogue

The Gamba Family Red & Blue Exchange helps students become more engaged, effective citizens.

John Gamba talking at a table of people
John F. Gamba, Jr., C’92, PAR’21, engages with students at the February 12, 2020 RBX Exchange forum, Can We Talk? Civil Dialogue for Troubled Times. Photo by Don Henry.

Through student dialogue and a series of special events, the Gamba Family Red & Blue Exchange is providing new opportunities for Penn students to practice productive and effective dialogue across different ideological perspectives.

In making their generous gift to establish the new program, John F. Gamba, W’61, PAR’92, and Mary Anne S. Gamba, HUP’65, G’84, PAR’92, said:

We hope students will delve into some of the most challenging topics currently facing society, learn to navigate the many different perspectives that exist around those topics, and find effective solutions to influence change—both in their time at Penn, and later, in their careers.

The Red & Blue Exchange is housed within the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Paideia Program at Penn, which was created in 2019 to cultivate dialogue, wellness, service, and citizenship, and which was just designated as a key program to drive the newly-announced Year of Civic Engagement by Penn President Amy Gutmann.

John Gamba talking at a table of people
John F. Gamba, Jr., C’92, PAR’21, engages with students at the February 12, 2020 RBX Exchange forum, Can We Talk? Civil Dialogue for Troubled Times. Photo by Don Henry.

To kick off the program, two forums entitled Can We Talk? Civil Dialogue for Troubled Times  were held under the flagship Red & Blue Exchange (RBX) this past February 12 and April 16. The roundtable (and virtual roundtable) sessions tackled topics ranging from universal healthcare to climate change to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of these sessions, explains forum host Harris Sokoloff, faculty director of Catalyst Community Conversations at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, “students were able to articulate their opinions more thoughtfully. They gained response tools and learned behavior modifications to address conflict in a constructive way.”

Alongside the RBX forums was an adjacent class of a similar name and nature, Can We Talk? Courageous Civility, Troubled Times, offered by the SNF Paideia Program. The course was co-taught in Spring 2020 by Sokoloff; Lia Howard, student advising and wellness director of SNF Paideia; and Chris Satullo, a journalist and co-founder of the PA Project for Civic Engagement, which began at Penn and now operates as a part of the Committee of Seventy.

“No matter what discipline you find yourself in, whether it’s as a community leader or in politics, the private sector or even just in your private life with family members, you’re going to need to have tough conversations. This class gives you the tool set necessary to come out of those conversations successfully and teaches you how to be a more effective communicator.” Connor Gibson, W’21, Program Participant

In the years ahead, the Gamba Red & Blue Exchange will also host the RBX Speakers Series, featuring headliners to inspire more robust discourse at Penn. The first such event is planned for the 2020-21 school year and will feature Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and co-founder of OpenMind.org, an online platform designed to help communities and organizations depolarize through education and psychology.

Leah Seppanen Anderson, executive director of the SNF Paideia Program, explains that “the hallmark of Paideia is to help all of us navigate these times of polarization and disagreement, reflect on how to best engage with others, and build skills for interacting with people who are different than ourselves.”

The Red & Blue Exchange puts this vision into practice by nurturing informed, balanced discourse.

“With classes, speaker series, and campus dialogues, students will gain critical skills in framing discussions, examining biases, and developing interactions as they challenge each other in a civil manner through a free exchange of diverse social, economic, and political viewpoints,” explains John Gamba.

As sponsors of the Red & Blue Exchange, we expect such discourse to have enduring impact as students navigate their world far beyond the University.

“Promoting Civil Dialogue.”

Originally written and published by The Power of Penn, June 18, 2020.

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