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Hot Topics, Not Hot Takes: 5 Questions with Derigan Silver

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Rebecca Parker

Senior Manager of Strategic Storytelling

DU’s new director of freedom of expression and civil discourse leads efforts to promote deep thinking and discussion across campus.

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Derigan Silver speaking to panelists

Derigan Silver, DU’s new director of freedom of expression and civil discourse, speaks during the 2023 Spark event.

As the University of Denver expands opportunities for the community to come together to discuss critical and complex topics, the goals are learning, deeper understanding and self-reflectionnot bad-faith “hot takes” and “gotcha” questions.

Chancellor Jeremy Haefner and Provost Mary Clark knew the DU community needed someone passionate, experienced and deeply empathetic to lead these efforts. Derigan Silver is ready to do just that.

Silver has taught at the University for 16 years and is the chair of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies. In his new faculty director role, Silver will coordinate all the free expression work taking place across campus. He will also pursue and encourage the continued exploration of free speech, academic freedom, civil discourse and thought pluralism at DU.

We caught up with Silver to learn more about his new role and why expression and discourse matters for everyone in our community.

Please click here to learn more about Spark

What tips do you have for folks engaging in a difficult conversation?

I want to get away from the idea that difficult conversations or debates must result in winners and losers. It’s not about who comes out ahead. And if you avoid challenging or difficult conversations, you turn down opportunities for growth and reflection on why you believe what you believe.

I also want to recognize that with a mindset centered around winning and losing, it can be hard not to feel attacked. Sometimes, in these conversations, groups or individuals may feel devalued. We must acknowledge this. This is one of the dangers of modern discoursethe idea that you must validate yourself by devaluing others. This is what leads to these battles and lack of tolerance and empathy on all sides. Everyone’s experience is valid and deserving of being voiced.

How do you see civil discourse fitting into DU’s 4D Experience?

It’s an inherent part of 4D. We encourage students to explore their own ideas and convictions. We want students to come to their own truths and own decisions about what they value and what they see as important. We also want to learn from what they’ve been able to do as we work alongside them as educators and mentors.

You’re on the Spark 2024 Planning Committee. What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Spark?

The plurality of voices that went into the planning and which will be present at the events themselves. I am very excited to hear the exchange of ideas, and I hope they “spark” deep thinking as opposed to hot takes, which implies a “winners and losers” mentality. It’s not about who can argue the best. It’s about research, reasoning and the discovery of truth.

What can community members do if they want to engage in free expression work on campus?

We are just getting started, but we hope to offer micro-funding grants to students (and faculty and staff) to propose projects or initiatives that explore civil discourse, freedom of expression and thought pluralismor which put those concepts into practice.

I may be director, but I am not “king” of this area. I hope many people come forward with ideas. When you ask a university community to generate ideas, you’ll get creative results.

What do you love most about DU?

The students. Their inquisitiveness, intellectual curiosity, energy and the joy they bring into the classroom. I like it when they challenge me and each other. College is a time for growth and figuring out who you are. I love the opportunity to be a part of their journey. It’s an honor and a gift.

Register by April 29 to attend Spark 2024 and click here if you plan to attend.

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