Earlier this term, artwork by Eugene-based artist Andrew Douglas Campbell was put up in the North Santiam Hall Art Gallery. The three piece series, entitled “…And Then what Could Happen Bent to What Will Happen…” quickly became a huge point of controversy throughout both the LBCC and local communities, with many people arguing whether or not it was appropriate to display sexually explicit artwork on a college campus.
LBCC’s newly formed Civil Discourse Club decided to put both points of view on display and and have a constructive debate about the artwork. Students and faculty gathered in the fireside room on Tuesday, Nov. 21 for the Civil Discourse Club’s inaugural debate event. The main goal was to establish both sides of the conversation to create dialogue throughout the community and fairly express both sides of the argument.
The proposition of the debate was “The sexually explicit artwork currently displayed in NSH is inappropriate.” Anthony Lusardi and Civil Discourse Club president Brandon Calhoun represented the affirmative side, speaking in favor of the proposition, and club members Moriah Hoskins and Steven Olson represented the opposition, opposing the proposition. Club vice president Brent Cardenas acted as the mediator.
“Our club believes that debate can provide civil discourse when it allows conflicting viewpoints to be presented along side each other in a way that can be expressed and challenged respectfully,” said Cardenas in a statement before the debate.
Lusardi and Calhoun built their case around how they believe in the freedom of expression that the artwork represents, but that the explicit artwork might come across as intrusive on other people’s values. The two questioned whether everyone at LBCC would feel included based on the content of the art and expressed concerns that they had heard from different members of the LBCC community, that people were fearful to speak out about the art at times for fear of being chastised for their opinion.
The affirmative side also argued that since LBCC has over 563 students under the age of 18 on campus, that the artwork is not suitable for minors to look at and therefore is not appropriate to be put up in such a prominent place on campus. They motioned to create compromise and stated that the art should have been moved to a different, lower traffic location on campus so as to not interfere with people’s beliefs but also allow freedom of expression.
Hoskins and Olson central claim was that calling the artwork in question inappropriate for LBCC hinders the five values at LBCC, opportunity, excellence, inclusiveness, learning, and engagement, to be realized. They argued that the artwork actually captures all five points of the values of LBCC.
“We talk a lot here about having discussion and everyone being here really shows that you all want to grow by having discussion. That’s a really important part of LBCC’s values. Opportunity states that ‘we support the fulfillment of potential in ourselves and each other.’ This debate is opportunity,” said Olson.
After the debate Calhoun said the idea to talk about the artwork came from reading some of the hateful comments from the comment box that was set up next to the artwork. Calhoun and various other members of the club felt that this was not a constructive way to have a dialogue about the topic and decided that it would be good idea to have an actual conversation about the artwork.
“The comment box is what really drove this home for us. We saw these visceral, angry comments, but that is not how you go about this issue. You have to talk, and no one was talking to each other,” said Calhoun.
Lusardi explained why the club felt the artwork would be a good subject of debate for the club to start with.
“It’s a topic that definitely hits home for a lot of LBCC students. It’s a topic that’s relatable, it’s a topic that is very close to them and it’s not some distant sort of discussion that we could have part of, but something people encounter everyday. So when you look at it you’re involved somehow and this is a way of expressing the two sides,” said Lusardi.
Club Advisor and LBCC Communications instructor Mark Urista was pleased with how the event was received and felt the club did a good job promoting civil discourse.
“I think the students did an excellent job, it was clear that the audience was engaged, and the students demonstrated the type of civil discourse that we want to see more of on campus,” said Urista.
“These four students are so dedicated to promoting civil discourse on campus and truly wanted to model what they hope to see more of across campus.”
For the LBCC Civil Discourse Club the main goal is to become a chapter of Bridge USA, an organization that looks to promote rational political discourse on college campuses around the nation. The name Bridge USA refers to the figurative “Bridge” that the organization aims to create between both the left and right sides of the political spectrum, to allow them to come together and have healthy constructive dialogue.
“Right now you look at the political climate in this artwork alone and you can see that there is a right and there is a left, and have they talked about it? Not until this. So the idea is to bring about civil discourse and talk about these contentious issues,” said Calhoun.
In the future the club hopes to hold weekly discussion that tie into their weekly meetings, as well as one debate per term, and eventually a panel discussion where professors from the local colleges and community members can discuss a designated topic.
Lusardi stated that the club is a good way to create progress in viewing two sides of an argument that center around a contentious subject.
“I love getting people into corners where they have to answer uncomfortable questions. Yeah it’s not comfortable, but that’s progress, we’re getting somewhere,” said Lusardi.
For more information on the Civil Discourse Club including video of the debate check out their facebook page at @LBCCCivilDiscourse.
Story and Photos by Josh Stickrod