Seamus Brennan ‘20
On Thursday, Apr. 5, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Holy Cross Student Government Association co-sponsored a campus-wide fishbowl discussion on the topic of guns, gun violence, and gun rights. Throughout the event, students and faculty members from a wide range of political perspectives addressed and considered many of the most pressing and controversial details of the national gun debate.
“The Office of Diversity and Inclusion wants our students, faculty and staff to work past partisan divides and engage in difficult dialogues, and particularly on topics that are not easy to chat about. The fishbowl provides one model for a moderated conversation where people with many different opposing views can come together towards a shared common goal,” said Amit Taneja, moderator of the fishbowl discussion and Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the College.
Prior to the beginning of the discussion, Taneja urged participants to engage in dialogue rather than debate as well as to avoid common partisan talking points. All participants were asked to complete a live poll with questions pertaining to gun ownership, experience with guns, and personal assessment of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Professors from the Holy Cross Political Science and History departments prefaced the fishbowl with brief background information on some of the history and politics of guns and the Second Amendment.
“It was helpful to establish early on in the fishbowl that the vast majority of participants were invested in reducing gun based violence. A shared common goal can help us understand that those with different approaches and ideas are not our enemies, but that we all wanted similar outcomes. The common goals prevent us from dismissing others without hearing them first. This approach is in stark contrast to the public debates on this topic where many people can barely move past ideological labels or political party affiliations,” said Taneja.
Taneja noted that he was impressed with participants’ respectful demeanors throughout the discussion: “I believe that our students, faculty and staff modeled ways of deep listening and reflection, even when the conversation felt tense. In many ways, I believe that the program met its objectives because the participants stayed on topic, disagreed respectfully, presented their viewpoints, and most importantly continued the conversation when it was difficult,” he said.
“My hope for the fishbowl is that students learn the tools necessary to engage in dialogue and reflection with others that they deeply disagree with. I never imagined that we were going to leave the fishbowl with consensus on how to solve the issue of gun violence, but that students would leave with a commitment to continue the dialogue. I hope that other conversations on guns and other controversial topics happen in all kinds of spaces – the classroom, the residence hall and in the dining hall. The format would depend on how students want to approach the topic, and I hope that some of the ground rules, including the principle of dialogue versus debate will serve as the foundation for future conversations,” said Taneja.
Unlike past campus-wide discussions at Holy Cross, the gun fishbowl was not recorded and all attendees were asked to respect participants’ confidentiality in an effort to encourage all students to speak freely.
Although no additional fishbowl discussions have been scheduled for the spring 2018 semester, similar event listings can be found at: