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Inaugural Denver Dialogues event models civil discourse

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Korbel Communications

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The Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the Scrivner Institute of Public Policy convened the first Denver Dialogues event on Oct. 4, bringing together leaders from prominent think tanks for a discussion on the importance of civil discourse, diverse perspectives and the role of disagreement in a healthy democracy.

“It’s hard to think of a more important issue in this country and, indeed, around the world, than the deterioration of the civic culture on which democracy depends,” said Fritz Mayer, dean of the Korbel School, as he and Naazneen Barma, director of the Scrivner Institute, kicked off the event. “A fundamental requirement of a democracy is that, while we may disagree vehemently about what is to be done, we accept the legitimacy of those with whom we disagree.”

Hundreds of attendees learned about the root causes of the breakdown in civil discourse from four distinguished speakers: DU alumna Condoleezza Rice (BA ’74, PhD ’81, Hon. PhD ’96), former U.S. secretary of state and current director of the Hoover Institution; Robert Doar, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute; and Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America. The panelists traced the problem to people living in “information echo chambers” and sticking to their “affinity groups,” behavior based on the tendency for people to gravitate toward what makes them comfortable and move away from what they fear.

“This is one of the things we all have to learn, in our schooling, in our family upbringing: how to deal with our vulnerability in such a way it doesn’t prevent us from engaging with others,” Porterfield told the hundreds of people assembled for the virtual event. 

To improve civil discourse, Rice said, people must be able to interact with others who think differently and to open their “hearts and minds to others’ points of view.” 

“And that,” Slaughter added, “means coming at any discourse, or dialogue, or conversation with an open enough mind to think, ‘I’m listening and I’m willing to change my mind.’ Maybe not my core principles, but I’m listening and willing to let you persuade me, and in return, you’re more likely to let me persuade you.”

The panelists urged DU community members to see themselves not just as red or blue voters but to think about people as more than their policy stances.

Doar complimented the University for holding the event, saying, “I believe part of the problem is on our college campuses … there hasn’t been sufficient viewpoint diversity, and there has been too much shutting down of people who say things that are contrary to the prevailing view.”

To learn more about upcoming events and to view a recording of this event, visit


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2023 edition of the University of Denver magazine.