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Teach In

8th Annual Teach-In on Social Justice
Monday, March 18, 2024
“Beyond Polarization: From Conflict to the Common Good”

Morning Keynote – Tony Banout

Why Protect Hurtful, Traumatic, and Offensive Speech?

(Students, Staff, and Faculty only)

Free speech is a staple of democracies. Conversely, it is among the first causalities of authoritarian takeovers and closed societies. How is it, then, that America’s college campuses are seeing dramatic increases on speech restrictions? From the classroom to the quad, we see less tolerance for dissenting views and greater ideological uniformity. Sometimes there are cultural forces that operate to restrict speech, sometimes it is official administrative sanction. Nearly always, there are good intentions behind cultural and official censorship: harm reduction, sensitivity to those with less privilege and power, anti-racism, and so on. In this keynote, I will challenge the prevailing notion that DEI concerns are antithetical to free speech protection, and explicate the idea that, yes, even harmful, traumatic, and offensive speech deserves protection in our democracy and on college campuses.

Banout serves as the inaugural executive director of the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression at the University of Chicago whose mission is to provide a focal point for understanding and applying free expression, in academia and in the broader culture, in the United States and abroad. Banout earned his PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he was a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow and Provost Dissertation Fellow. Banout also holds a BS from Saint John’s University and an MA from Washington Theological Union. As the former senior vice president for Interfaith America, Banout guided a leading civic organization in the development of strategies and programs devoted to democratic discourse and civil conversation across deep difference in and beyond higher education. He has spoken and published widely on free expression, constructive engagement of difference, and the civic relevance of religious diversity. A lifelong advocate for ideological diversity and inclusion in academia, Banout serves as a board member at Heterodox Academy.

Afternoon Keynote – Dr. Michael Okinczyc-Cruz

From Political Polarization to Prophetic Grassroots Politics

(Students, Staff, and Faculty only)

Today’s political climate is largely shaped by major political parties and dominant political forces that foster highly polarized conditions and offer inadequate frameworks for understanding and responding to many of the most pressing social, political, racial, economic and environmental justice issues of our day. Rather than having our moral and political views primarily shaped and informed by political parties and media forces that often benefit from polarization and failed progress, we must look within ourselves and also towards important moral, religious and political figures and the grassroots movements and organizations that they were a part of to better understand the vital importance of rooting our politics in the experiences of everyday people and in the prophetic faith teachings that offer a far more radical and egalitarian vision and moral framework for our present and future. From Jesus to Ella Baker and Gandhi to Dolores Huerta, we will explore the lives of these important figures and the grassroots movements and organizations they were a part of to glean important insights that will help us discern how to carve our own path forward during these turbulent and challenging times.

Michael Okinczyc-Cruz is the Executive Director and a co-founder of the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership (CSPL). As a community organizer over the past 12 years he has worked alongside grassroots community leaders to address systemic inequities and advance justice through ambitious community-led solutions on local, state, and national levels. He has trained thousands of leaders across the country on the methodologies of faith-rooted community organizing. He is an adjunct professor at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University of Chicago teaching courses on Catholic Social Teaching, Christian Ethics and Leadership in Social Justice Organizations, and Kingian and Gandhian nonviolence.

Michael possesses a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master’s in Theology from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and a Doctorate of Ministry with a concentration in Latina/o studies from Fordham University. Michael’s maternal grandparents are from Guanajuato, Mexico. His father is a refugee from Poland.

Unifying Principles behind the Teach-In

  • INCLUSIVITY. We must vigorously work toward an increasingly “inclusive academic community” and not take for granted that this has been achieved.
  • OUR INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS. We are called to bring the wisdom of our Benedictine and Catholic intellectual traditions into the dialogue about urgent social issues confronting our local, national, and global communities.
  • ENGAGED CITIZENS and THE COMMON GOOD. In our efforts to become “engaged citizens,” we need a fuller understanding of what it means to “promote the common good” and to work toward social justice according to Catholic teachings.
  • OUR HALLMARKS. We are expected to live and to model the values of our Benedictine hallmarks: Love of Christ and Neighbor, Prayer, Stability, Conversatio (formation and transformation) , Obedience/Listening, Discipline, Humility, Stewardship, Hospitality, Community


8:00-8:30 Orientation – What is the Teach-In?

The Teach-In history and rationale, its foundation in the University’s Mission and Vision, and its link to Student Learning Outcomes

9:00-10:15 Morning Keynote:  Why Protect Hurtful, Traumatic, and Offensive Speech?

Tony Banout, PhD (University of Chicago)   

10:30-11:45 Morning Concurrent Session Topics

  • Counterpoint and Conversation: the case for restricting harmful speech
    • An opportunity to engage with the keynote speaker, Tony Banout, on the tension between free speech and harmful speech.
      • Facilitated by: Dr. Tony Banout with respondents Dr. Phil Hardy and Dr. Tammy Sarver.
      • Session type: Facilitated discussion
  • Catholic Justice: How Do We Treat Our Neighbor?
    • How are Catholics called to work for justice? Through stories and activities, this session highlights Catholic Social Teaching and how we are to further the common good for all.
      • Facilitated by: Carrie Ankeny and Carol Allen (Campus Ministry)
      • Session type: Workshop
  • Conflicting Views: Endangerment of LGBTQ+ Rights
    • Historically, and particularly in election years, political polarization affects the LGBTQ+ community. Political and social conflicts have brought hate and bias to not only America, but to our campus. Educating individuals on these conflicts, both political and social, can benefit the common good. Embodying the principle of hospitality promotes protection, tolerance, and inclusion of all people, in our nation and on our campus.
      • Facilitated by: Kaya Dreger, Martyn Welenc, Marc Davidson
      • Session type: Facilitated dialogue
  • Polarization: Clients and Therapists with Value Conflicts
    • Mental health professionals often find themselves working with clients whose values or beliefs differ widely from their own. This session will focus on being aware of the internal struggles professionals face as they engage in conversations to help “the others” that they serve.
      • Facilitated by: Prof. Jane Boumgarden and students from Clinical Practicum Lab
      • Session type: Workshop
  • Equity in Healthcare: Uniting Communities, Bridging Divides
    • This session addresses the polarization and conflicts in healthcare equity by fostering a collaborative environment among medical students, physicians, and allies. The goal is to dismantle existing divides, encourage open dialogue, and cultivate mentorship opportunities, thereby inspiring positive change in the healthcare profession, thus contributing to the common good.
      • Facilitated by: Rebecca Socha and Urva Mehveen (BenU alums)
      • Session type: Speakers
  • Images of Resistance in the Komechak Art Collection
    • This session will use pieces within the university’s Komechak art collection to illustrate the process of expression in relationship to coping with conflict and shifting perspectives on a spectrum of polarization. Panelists will use an art therapy and art history lens to explore the contextual elements and social factors that worked their way into the creative process of the artists and the overall statements they were making within their work.
      • Facilitated by: James Bulosan and David Marcet
      • Session type: Panel
  • Lost Childhoods: Ideological Clashes and Displaced Youth
    • This session will focus on the tragic consequences to the youngest and most vulnerable members of society that result from ideological extremes and conflicts. Children in displacement become casualties of opposing beliefs and values, emphasizing the urgent need to transcend polarization. The session will shift the focus towards a shared responsibility for the common good, emphasizing cooperation over discord, justice over conflict, and love over division, recognizing that the well-being of all children is a collective responsibility.
      • Facilitated by: Benedictine UNICEF, Dr. Susan Mikula, Ali Ebraheemi
      • Session type: Workshop
  • Navigating Moral Crossroads for Common Good
    • How do we act on our values, in the context of the common good when communities are polarized, or in a state of conflict? Guiding groups through conflict: Navigating values for common good in polarized communities. Explore making tough choices and understanding that the right path is often challenging. AJS Future Leaders will lead discussions on group values amid incompatibilities and conflicts.
      • Facilitated by: Arthur J. Schmitt Scholars
      • Session type: Workshop
  • Polarization, Misinformation, and Truth Decay
    • The session will discuss some ways that disinformation generates “a divergence of attitudes away from a central position toward ideological extremes” leading to “active disagreement, disharmony, fight, quarrel, strife, and struggle” to the detriment of the common good. A major point of reference will be the 2018 book by Kavanaugh and Rich, “Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life.”
      • Facilitated by: Dr. Martin Tracey and student leaders
      • Session type: Roundtable

12:00-1:15    Midday Concurrent Sessions

  • Communication Skills in a Polarized World
    • The polarization of perspectives, values and beliefs evident on national and global scales, make it difficult for individuals to find joining points for healthy, productive, communication and to listen and receive another’s point of view. This session will teach some effective ways to communicate when tensions run high, to create safe spaces to discuss uncomfortable topics, and to build a more cohesive community.
      • Facilitated by: BenU Counseling Center Staff
      • Session type: Workshop
  • Benedictine Moment
    • Join the BenU community as we pause in prayer, reflection, and meditation embracing the call of living lives marked by care for the common good through the Benedictine wisdom tradition.
      • Facilitated by: Campus Ministry
      • Session type: Workshop

 1:30-2:45 Afternoon Keynote: From Political Polarization to Prophetic Grassroots Politics

Michael Okinczyc-Cruz, PhD (Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership)

3:00-4:15 Afternoon Concurrent Session Topics

  • Grassroots Organizing and the Signs of Our Times
    • Grassroots-led and faith-rooted community organizing offers a wealth of lessons and opportunities to those who wish to make tangible and concrete contributions towards building a more just and equitable society. Stories and real-life examples from the field of grassroots organizing helps us to understand how ordinary and everyday people can bind together to exercise their collective power to effect change and advance justice.
      • Facilitated by: Keynote speaker Dr. Michael Okinczyc-Cruz
      • Session type: Discussion
  • Advocacy in Healthcare: Pursuing the Common Good
    • By examining the existing divides in healthcare access, internationally and in the US, the session will illuminate the challenges that hinder progress towards more equitable systems of healthcare. The session will look into the complexities of healthcare disparities, emphasizing the importance of open dialogue and collaboration. Attendees will explore tangible ways to bridge divides, cultivate mentorship opportunities, foster a sense of unity, and work toward shared goals.
      • Facilitated by: Mike Hong and Doctors Without Borders Club
      • Session type: Speaker with discussion
  • Bridging Polarization through Dialogue
    • This session will provide a framework for people with opposing views to engage in discussions that build harmony and bridges rather than furthering dissension and distrust. It will also address ways to use dialogic skills in the professional world.
      • Facilitated by: Saalih Abdul-Salam, Syeda Adeena Ahmed, Jenna Demas, Mohammed Bilaluddeen, John Creviston, Bilal Abrar
      • Session type: Workshop
  • Canceled! Oppression or Liberation?
    • The session will address the modern concept of being “canceled”. Two views will be examined: 1) that cancelation helps call out and punish bad behavior, and 2) that cancelation shuts down ideas that some find objectionable. The presentation will look at examples of famous “cancellations” and whether cancelation destroys parts of society.
      • Facilitated by: Anthony Miller
      • Session type: Speaker with discussion
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s Bipartisan Approach
    • Climate change affects us all, but some more than others. The politicization of climate change has driven some to take extreme positions. This session will present the compassionate and bipartisan approach used by Citizens’ Climate Lobby to help foster productive discussions around potentially “heated” issues.
      • Facilitated by: Mark Ailes (Citizens’ Climate Lobby)
      • Session type: Speaker
  • Making the Choice: Accompanying Abortion Vulnerable Women
    • Venus & Justin Wozniak are the directors of Nativity House, an intentional community and house of hospitality for expectant mothers rooted in Catholic Social Teaching. Nativity House is a small Catholic Worker homestead located in the Des Plaines River Valley, 30 miles south of Chicago. The Nativity House community walks with moms who have chosen life for their children in the face of adversity, hardship and abundant conflict. Learn about what a nurturing community in the face of the perilous unknown looks like.
      • Facilitated by: Venus and Justin Wozniak (Nativity House)
      • Session type: Facilitated discussion.
  • Pro Bono Legal Initiatives for Conflict Resolution
    • This session will address polarity and conflicts in the legal landscape through discussion of a pro bono law NGO. By bringing legal professionals, community members, and stakeholders together, the focus is on mitigating disharmony, fostering understanding, and providing pro bono legal support to those in need.
      • Facilitated by: Qasim Rashid, civil rights attorney
      • Session type: Facilitated discussion
  • Reclaiming Our Story & Dehumanizing Narratives
    • Media narratives often create dehumanizing depictions of marginalized communities. This session will explore media’s false, demeaning, and harmful portrayal of certain groups in ways that challenge their basic humanity and civil rights. Opportunities for activism will be discussed.
      • Facilitated by: Dr. Julie Dockery, Dr. Elaine Davies
      • Session type: Panel
  • Talking about Palestine
    • US public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is distorted by obfuscation and bias, exacerbated by the government’s extreme position relative to the rest of the world and rhetoric claiming Palestinians and Israelis could never coexist in a state granting equal rights to all citizens. We will review opinion polls and other evidence concerning the attitudes of Palestinians, Israelis, and others.
      • Facilitated by: Dr. Kaveh Hemmat
      • Session type: Speaker
  • Vaccination: History, Disparities, and Trust
    • Vaccines have helped reduce infectious disease rates over the years and have recently evolved to target difficult microorganisms. However, the vaccine development path has not always been successful or transparent. In this session, we invite the audience to engage in a discussion on historical aspects of vaccine development and administration as well as approaches to vaccine access and trust within communities of color. Group discussion moderated by professors and representatives from various student organizations.
      • Facilitated by: Hiba Siddiqui, Nikola Slakeski
      • Session type: Roundtable