Four students from the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering recently traveled to the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point, to participate in a discussion on the importance of civil discourse. The UF Engineering Leadership Institute, which focuses on creating leaders prepared for 21st century challenges, sponsored the trip to the National Conference on Ethics in America, which is held annually and by invitation.
“Civil discourse, as I understand it, is being able to talk about emotionally charged issues in such a way where you have empathy to see the issue from the other person’s point of view,” said Mark Rattray, a third-year computer engineering student and president of UF’s Collegiate Veterans Society who attended the conference. Rattray is an Army National Guard veteran and recently took an engineering leadership course offered by the ELI.
Kayla Duckworth, Emily Steele and Balaji Thoguluva also attended the conference, where students met in small groups, were given a handful of questions and selected one of them to use in practicing civil discourse. Rattray’s group discussed “Is the phrase ‘blue lives matter’ racist? Thoguluva’s group debated whether companies should be allowed to refuse sales to certain demographics. Each of the UF students were among those selected to represent their respective groups in presenting a summary of their conversations.
Keynote speakers at the conference were Sage Steele, a female sports television anchor, and Capt. Scott Smiley, the U.S. Army’s first blind active-duty officer. Steele spoke about the challenges of being a female in a predominantly male industry. Smiley’s speech focused on the unique challenges he faced as a blind member of the military, detailing his means of handling adversity. Both speakers encouraged more civil discourse as a means to eliminate discrimination in the place.
“Events like the National Conference on Ethics provide our Gator Engineers the opportunity to meet, interface and engage in deep discussions on critical topics with a diverse array of students from across the country,” said Franklin “Buster” Hagenbeck, the director of the Engineering Leadership Institute and former superintendent of West Point. “It’s a life changing event.”
Hagenbeck reported that no other civilian college had more participants at the conference than the University of Florida.
Conference participants will meet with the Engineering Student Leader Advisory Board this fall to discuss ways to encourage more civil discourse on campus.