Sunday, April 11, marked the inaugural meeting of Forum, a new RSO launched by second-years Gabby Bayness and David Calahan. Forum is a political discussion group that invites students from across the ideological spectrum to debate current events.
Forum’s mission statement emphasizes that it is aimed at “analyzing and engaging with political, social, and economic related discourse” through open dialogue.
“I don’t think that anything is gained in an echo chamber, so I guess what Gabby and I are trying to create is the opposite of that,” Calahan said.
To foster informed conversation, Calahan and Bayness send information about the discussion topic to members before each meeting.
“I am the right-leaning wing of the group and David is our…left-leaning wing of the group,” said Bayness. Each meeting opens up with Calahan and Bayness sharing their own opinions. This portion, according to Calahan, is a “jumping off point…something for [members] to agree or disagree with if they would like to.” After this introduction, Forum moves into moderated speaking time, where members are given an uninterrupted minute each to share their thoughts. Finally, the group enters into free discussion.
The group discussed media credibility and the concept of fake news at their first meeting, which Bayness deemed a success.
“David and I found ourselves having to hold back, just so we could let our other participants talk,” Bayness said. “We talked about social media and indie reporters and meme culture and the entertainment that seeps into reporting, things like that, so it was super interesting and super fruitful.”
“At UChicago, you have people who will find all the little intricacies and all the little nitty gritty details and talk about tangents of ideas that we weren’t thinking of,” Bayness added.
The idea of starting an RSO like Forum came from Bayness and Calahan’s family backgrounds. Growing up in a family with opposing political outlooks, Calahan believes that reaching across the aisle is enjoyable and informative.
“One side of my family is Trump supporters and the other side of my family’s very much not. So I’ve been used to those kinds of…difficult and bipartisan interactions, and I want to see more of it, because I enjoy it. There’s so much to learn when you reach across to the other side, maybe not necessarily factually. Learning how other people think, even if you don’t necessarily agree with what they think, is just so incredibly beneficial,” Calahan said.
Bayness recounted similar experiences, as both her hometown in Cleveland, Ohio, and her family were politically diverse.
“There’s a main street by where I live, and there’s a Confederate flag on a Taco Bell next to a mosque next to a synagogue next to an Irish church, all in a row by the Cleveland airport,” she said.
“I think we’re now in a position in society where you can kind of curate your own realities and your own lifestyles and who you hang out with…so I think [Forum discussions facilitating] this coming together of extremes and ideals and people from everywhere is super important to me," Bayness added.
Calahan sees Forum as different from other partisan political groups on campus, such as UChicago Republicans and UChicago Democrats, which represent only one half of the partisan divide.
“We are very intentionally creating a space for controlled conflict. Our group is specifically for those potentially contentious discussions,” he said.
Bayness believes that Forum is a space for students with all kinds of goals for political discussion, including people who are already involved in partisan clubs and want a different experience, people who feel they do not fit into partisan clubs, and “people who don’t want to be part of any particular type of activism and just want to learn…from each other, from our experiences, and from our peers.”