By Kelly Snow |

Piedmont Community College (PCC) is doing its part to help improve how local people discuss difficult issues.

The college held its first Pacers’ Perspectives workshop Tuesday on Zoom with the goal of modeling civil discourse “that will allow the Piedmont Community College family the opportunity to express varying viewpoints in a respectful and honest environment”, according to the workshop description on the college’s website.

This was the first of three discussion-based workshops of its kind scheduled for the remainder of the semester.

The idea of the Pacers’ Perspectives workshop came from a North Carolina Campus Compact conference that PCC president Dr. Pamela Senegal attended where civil discourse was discussed and modeled. The school took some ideas from the conference and made a plan of its own. More than 60 people participated or observed the workshop.

“We wanted to first in-house model how you talk about things that are difficult to discuss where you have a broad spectrum of opinions in a way that’s respectful,” Karen Sanders, PCC Dean of University Transfer and General Education said. “We don’t have to agree, but we do have to respect each other and respect each others’ position. We feel that part of our role as educators is to be change agents in Person and Caswell counties with the people that we interact with.”

Sanders indicated that the college envisioned doing the Pacers’ Perspectives workshop on campus in its auditorium, but that the current COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans — but not their purpose.

“We live in the United States, but we haven’t been very united in how we approach people with differing opinions,” Sanders said. “We wanted, in our small way, model that we all don’t have to think alike but can come together and discuss. It doesn’t have to be ugly. It doesn’t have to be rude. It doesn’t have to be dangerous, but neither do we have to conform to someone else’s opinion.”

The topic discussed during Tuesday’s workshop was “Everyone should be vaccinated against COVID-19” and the opening segment involved five panelists who expressed opinions as strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree.

“We wanted to be very intentional to find someone to represent the varying different opinions so there would be a good broad discussion,” Sanders said.

Each panelist was given one minute to make his or her case and afterwards, those five participated in a 10-minute discussion among themselves in view of the Zoom audience that consisted of students, faculty, staff and members of the community.

PCC Vice President of Advancement and Communications Beth Townsend served as the moderator for the workshop and put forth ground rules before the discussion. Those rules, which Townsend described as good basic life rules, included allowing everyone to talk without one person dominating the conversation, use “I statements” instead of overgeneralizing or labeling, don’t interrupt, and be brief.

Townsend also reminded the more than 60 people who attended the Zoom workshop that “what is said here, stays here, but what is learned here, leaves here.”

After the discussion among panelists, the audience broke off into small groups of around five people each for a broader discussion for several minutes.

The college is planning on holding a Pacers’ Perspectives in March with the topic “regardless of COVID-19 numbers, all students, both high school and college, should be allowed to return to campuses full-time”.
The workshop in April will concern legalization of marijuana in North Carolina.

The college has indicated that they may do more Pacers’ Perspectives workshop next fall.

Townsend hopes the behaviors modeled will carry over into everyday life, including how people interact on social media.

“I do think that social media allows people to be more mean because you’re not looking me in the eyes when you’re making that really rude comment,” Townsend said. “Maybe that’s going to be a future topic. We need to learn as a society that we just shouldn’t tear someone down because we disagree with them.”

Photo: (Zoom screen shot taken by Kelly Snow) showcases Deanna Burch, 2020 PCC graduate and current ER Nurse, as she shares her comments during the first Pacers’ Perspectives event.

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