In an effort to acknowledge the negative feedback towards The Mill Series last semester, a new nine-person student committee has been created, amongst a variety of other changes, in order to “put students at the heart of everything The Mill Series does,” Saeed Malami ’20 said.
“I understand greatly the annoyance and emotions people have towards The Mill Series and that’s something I genuinely respect and would like to, out of respect for that, change in the long run,” Malami added.
The Mill Series, which aims to promote political and intellectual diversity on campus by bringing speakers with unconventional viewpoints to campus, started fall 2016 in collaboration with government and law professor Brandon Van Dyck and Abdul Manan ’18 to encourage insightful conversations between people with different world views. Specifically, they originally wanted to bring conservative viewpoints to campus, which they thought were underrepresented in academia.
“Many on campus take a negative view of [The Mill Series]. Relatedly, many see it as partisan or anti-left. The latter perception is false, although understandable. [The Mill Series] values the left and right and simply seeks greater balance between the two in campus programming and discussion,” Van Dyck wrote in an email.
Malami is the head of the new student committee who will continue to work with Van Dyck, but in a different capacity. The committee, Malami said, is meant to keep The Mill Series in check by having a number of students who do believe in the mission, but come from a variety of political views.
“The reason The Mill Series was started was to essentially engage campus discourse in a more rounded and robust manner for students, and if we cannot get students from all ends of the spectrum, from all different angles, to come and have a conversation, then essentially we are perhaps failing as an organization,” Malami said.
Malami, or other students in the committee, will now host events rather than Van Dyck. Additionally, the way speakers are chosen has also changed to make the process more student-driven.
“I no longer choose speakers unilaterally: the new student committee is allowed to choose at least one speaker per semester and can veto any speaker I propose,” Van Dyck wrote in an email.
One such speaker The Mill Series is currently working on brining to campus is “a noted political leftist,” Van Dyck added.
In other efforts to bring about productive dialogue, Malami said The Mill Series also hopes to start hosting more debates this year, rather than individual speakers.
“[The Mill Series] will host more debates, going forward. We have lined up debates on the Iran nuclear deal [for October 2018] and capitalism versus democratic socialism [for March 2019]. We are currently organizing debates on race relations and fossil fuel use,” Van Dyck wrote in an email.
“One thing we realized is perhaps that debates are more representative of peoples’ views, and people tend to then see the faults in their own arguments more clearly when they are presented with a debate,” Malami added.
Another thing Malami stressed as the committee’s focus for this year is the idea of respectful discussion.
“I think [respectful discussion] was something we were not consciously trying to enforce in the past,” Malami said. However, after reflecting over the summer, Malami said they felt the need to be more deliberate in their efforts to create a sense of respect in the conversations they were starting.
In addition to altering the perceptions and overall outreach of The Mill Series, the committee and Van Dyck are also working on creating a weekly or biweekly podcast that would involve student hosts bringing various guests from the Lafayette community to “showcase intellectual diversity,” Malami said.
The Mill Series’s first event this semester will take place on Sept. 13 and will feature Steven Hicks, philosophy professor at Rockford University. Malami said this event will be “the water testing” for The Mill Series, and he said he encourages any who is “doubting the fact that we are committed to change” to come.