At a workshop held on campus last Friday, UH Hilo Assistant Professor of Astronomy Heather Kaluna and Associate Professor of Philosophy Celia Bardwell-Jones shared the example of their friendship to illustrate the value of civil discourse.
A group of faculty, staff, and students from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo attended an open discussion, titled, “Civil Discourse and Maunakea: Dialogues in Friendship,” held on campus last Friday. The conversation, to encourage models of civil discourse related to the current protest against building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea, was led by UH Hilo faculty Heather Kaluna, an assistant professor of astronomy, and Celia Bardwell-Jones, an associate professor of philosophy.
The workshop’s origin was inspired by the friendship and conversation shared between Kaluna and Bardwell-Jones during a huaka‘i (trip) to Maunakea over the summer. “That experience spawned a framework of friendship in talking about controversial issues,” recounts Bardwell-Jones.
The topics addressed by the participants at the forum included the meaning of community in Hawai‘i, what it means to be kanaka and a scientist, Hawaiian and Western perspectives on the practice of science, and whose voices in the community can and should be heard regarding TMT. Faculty also addressed the moral and ethical conflicts faced by students who need to attend class but also want to participate in the events on Maunakea.
Civil discourse refers to an exchange of views in a good faith effort to increase understanding between interlocuters, especially those with opposing viewpoints.
“It’s not just about giving arguments, but being able and open to be persuaded by arguments,” explains Bardwell-Jones. “That is a very difficult issue in contexts where our positions might seem intractable. It is important to keep that dialogue of friendship in play here because it is important for us to see how our conversations are situated and contextualized within the context of friendship.”
Kaluna, born and raised in Pāhoa on the island of Hawai‘i and a UH Hilo alumna, says these conversations are vital for bringing people together. “This is an important topic for the community and for me,” says Kaluna. “I think it’s important when we have any type of community tension that we learn to work together and come out stronger as a community.”
Kaluna notes the contributions made by her field of astronomy to understanding human origins. “As someone who very much values understanding our origins and understanding where we come from, I see TMT as another way to take that learning further,” she says.
Bardwell-Jones emphasizes the point that learning is not an activity to be done in isolation. “A philosophy colleague of mine says, ‘Learning is a social process enabled by community inquiry and suffering the experience of doubt,'” she explains. “The point of learning is that it is a community process that requires us to accept challenges our own viewpoint as well. We cannot check our positions by ourselves; we need a community to hold us accountable to the views that we hold.”
Gail Mililani Makuakāne-Lundin, director of the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center at UH Hilo and director of Hawai‘i Papa O Ke Ao (a UH System initiative to develop its leadership in indigenous education) and who helped organize the event, says she is planning to hold more conversations. “We need to talk about important topics on campus and provide a safe space for discussion,” she says. “We pride ourselves on being a university ‘ohana. To me, what’s going on up on the mountain is a family issue that we haven’t taken the opportunity to talk about to help us heal together.”
Makuakāne-Lundin notes that many in the community have mixed feelings on the TMT issue and their opinions are dynamic. “Most of us who are born and raised here and have been up to the mauna know our impressions can change based on who we speak to and the events up there. I think some people are having a hard time determining which pathway to take. I think people have been asking to talk about the issue, but we need to create venues where people feel safe.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Mokaulele Program, the chancellor’s offices at UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, the Hawai‘i Island Philosophy Club, the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, and the UH Hilo Office of Equal Opportunity.
Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University.
Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance at UH Hilo.