Academic Symposium

Constructive Engagement Across Perspectives - What We Know and What We Do

Friday, September 7, 2018, 7:00 - 9:00 p.m., Nott Memorial


It is critical at any time, and certainly in today’s world, that we all develop the ability to take the position of the other. This requires focusing not on convincing people who think differently that they are wrong or blocking them from affecting decisions, but rather engaging one another in understanding our different viewpoints. Seeking to understand is the very core of learning and therefore, the core of what we do at Union College. This symposium will explore the value of diverse perspectives, why it is difficult to engage constructively across perspectives, and how we can better overcome these challenges to advance individuals, organizations, and societies.

Moderated by President Harris, the panel of distinguished guests will explore a number of questions around the topic of constructive engagement:

  1. What does constructive engagement mean?
  2. Why is it hard to do?
  3. What facilitates constructive engagement?
  4. Why does it matter?


Welcome and Introductions

David Harris, Ph.D., President, Union College

Opening Remarks

Scott E. Page, Ph.D., Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Panel Discussion

  • Deidre Hill Butler, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Union College
  • Andrew Morris, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Union College
  • Kirsten Lodal, CEO & Co-Founder of LIFT
  • Oghenerhona Eseyade, Union College Class of 2021
  • Laura Munkres, Associate Director of Minerva Programs, Union College

Audience Questions and Answers

Dessert Reception

The symposium will be followed immediately by a light dessert reception in the Nott Memorial. All guests are welcome.

Speaker Profiles

  • Scott E. Page 

    Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; External Faculty, Santa Fe Institute

    Page’s research focuses on the function of diversity in complex social systems.

    His book, The Model Thinker, is about to be published by Basic Books. His previous books include, The Diversity Bonus, published in September 2017 as a joint project from Princeton University Press and the Mellon Foundation; The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies; and Complex Adaptive Social Systems.

    He is the author of more than 90 research papers in fields ranging from economics, political science, sociology, psychology, philosophy, physics, public health, geography, computer science, to management.

    He has filmed two video series for The Great Courses. His online course Model Thinking has attracted a million participants.

    A frequent public speaker, Scott has presented to NASA, Bloomberg, Google, Boeing, the IMF, Genentech, Gilead, and AT Kearney. He has been a featured speaker at the New York Times New Work Summit, Google Re:Work, the World Economic Forum – Davos, and the Aspen Ideas Festival. He has consulted with the Federal Reserve System, the White House Office of Personnel, Yahoo! Ford, DARPA, Procter and Gamble, BlackRock, and AB InBev.

    He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. In 2011, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    He holds a B.A. in mathematics from the University of Michigan, an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in managerial economics and decision sciences from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

  • Deidre Hill-Butler

    Associate Professor of Sociology

    Prof. Hill-Butler’s teaching and research explores black women’s roles in rarely examined community settings such as churches and working-class post-disaster spaces. Her current book project, Beyond Mammies and Matriarchs: Visibility of Black Stepmothers, investigates the role of stepmothers in black households. She curated a community engaged photo exhibit “Revitalized Community: Bordeaux Since the 2010 Flood” at the renovated Bordeaux Branch of the Nashville (Tenn.) Public Library and a similar exhibit at Union’s Schaffer Library. A member of the Association of Black Women Historians, she is also active with a number of regional mentoring organizations. She earned her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Clark University; her master’s degree in African and African-American Studies from Cornell University; and her B.A. from Oberlin College.

  • Oghenerhona Eseyade

    Union College Class of 2021

    Oghenerhona Eseyade is a mechanical engineering major at Union who hails from Lagos, Nigeria. Active on campus, he is a member of the men’s basketball team, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Baja Club and the Alumni Speaker Series.

  • Kirsten Lodal 

    CEO and Co-Founder of LIFT

    Kirsten Lodal is the CEO and Co-Founder of LIFT, an anti-poverty organization that has created positive outcomes for more than 100,000 families and established itself as a national model for effective social services. A leading advocate for re-thinking America’s anti-poverty programs, she has received numerous honors for her work on behalf of families, including the National Jefferson Award for Public Service and the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award. She is a graduate of Yale University and the Executive Management Program at the Columbia Business School’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management.

  • Andrew Morris 

    Associate Professor, Department of History, Union College

    Andy Morris is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Union College, and a member of the Environmental Science, Policy and Engineering Programs Steering Committee. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and a B.A. from Brown University. His teaching at Union focuses on modern American political history and American environmental history. He received the College’s Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2014. He is at work on a book, under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press, on Hurricane Camille (1969), disaster relief policy, and civil rights, for which he received a 2017-2018 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

  • Laura Munkres 

    Associate Director of Minerva Programs and Title IX Investigator, Union College

    Laura Munkres is a higher education professional with specialized experience in leadership development, residential life, strengths-based training, and event and program planning. She serves as the Associate Director of Minerva Programs and Title IX Investigator for Union College. She has held previous positions at Indiana University, the College of Saint Rose, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She holds a B.A. in communication and rhetoric from Nazareth College, an M.S. in higher education and student affairs from Indiana University, and an M.B.A. from Clarkson University.

  • David R. Harris

    President, Union College

    Harris, who became the 19th President of Union College on July 1, is a sociologist who has focused on race and ethnicity, social stratification and public policy. His work has applied theories from sociology, economics and psychology to empirical studies of racial and ethnic disparities in socioeconomic status, the fluidity of race, and racial and nonracial determinants of residential mobility.

    Before joining Union, he was chief academic officer at Tufts University, developing a strategic plan that created a program to encourage students to do a year of service before college, and Bridge Professorships, which span two or more schools to advance research and teaching on complex issues. He also established the new position of chief diversity officer and launched Bridging Differences, an initiative to encourage informed discussion around challenging topics.

    From 2003 to 2012, he was at Cornell University, first as a professor of sociology and later as founding director of Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences.

    From 2010 to 2011, he served as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    He attended Northwestern University, where he earned a B.S. in human development and social policy in 1991, and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1997.