An ongoing conversation series, titled “Trump: Point/Counterpoint,” began on Sept. 19 and will continue until Nov. 16. Featuring various guests in discussion on issues relating to the current political climate, the five-part series is hosted by Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring professor of humanities and Latin American and Latino culture, and is funded by alumni William Eisen ’70 and Robert Duboff ’70 in celebration of their approaching 50th reunion.
“Trump: Point/Counterpoint” was originally created as a “concept to help engender open-mindedness at Amherst through a seminar which demonstrates the value of considering points of view other than your own as a key part of education,” said Eisen and Duboff in a joint email statement. “Professor Stavans decided to use the current political protagonist as an ideal environment.”
“It seems to me that we do a disservice to ourselves, certainly to the younger generation, the student generation, when there is a diversity of racial or class or geographic, national, international backgrounds, but not a diversity of political ideological views,” Stavans said. “It’s very important to me to open up to different views and understand them and not ridicule them or [stereotype] them.”
The series features four speakers, two representing one ideological viewpoint and the others representing the other side. Speakers engage in a one-on-one dialogue with Stavans, during which they answer specific questions and present their own arguments. The fifth component of the series will focus on immigration, and in that event, members of the community — including local workers, students, restaurant staff, janitors and gardeners — will share their stories.
Speakers featured in this series “have distinguished themselves for having viewpoints that are strong and clearly presented, and are rational [and] intelligible in the way they pitch [viewpoints] to the general public,” said Stavans. “In the media in general … there are a lot of people screaming and shouting, and what I wanted was people who would talk — who would engage coherently and rationally.”
The biggest challenge, Stavans said, is “seeing what we do with the information that [speakers] provide to us” and how “respectful we can be with people whose views are clearly going to be very different from ours.”
“Can we allow ourselves to be exposed to those views and engage with them without screaming and shouting or silencing them?” he said.
The first event in the series, “Why BLACK LIVES MATTER Matters,” took place on Sept. 19 with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Wesley Lowery. Lowery covers law enforcement, race and justice for The Washington Post.
“I went to hear Wesley Lowery talk because I remembered reading his work when he wrote for the Boston Globe,” said Jeremy Margolis ’19. “On one of the nights of the [Ferguson] protest, Lowery was arrested while he reported from a local McDonald’s, and I remember following along as that took place. It was really powerful to hear him tell that story during his talk last week.”
Through this series, Eisen and Duboff hope that the Amherst community will “foster … a willingness to welcome all viewpoints that are expressed without violence.”
The next conversation, “Illiberalism in the Age of Trump,” is set for Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in Stirn Auditorium and will feature The New York Times reporter Bret Stephens, who has won a Pulitzer Prize and written the book “America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder.”