Weber State University is offering a free Community Education course this spring to explore the pertinent question “Why Are We So Polarized?” The course began on March 15 and runs to April 29.
The course, led by WSU history professor Susan Matt, features guest speakers each week that offer a variety of perspectives with which to view the divisive current social climate. Speakers include historians, economists, sociologists, communications experts and political scientists.
Matt, the interim associate dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, had the idea to offer free virtual courses, focused on current issues, for the community through WSU’s Division of Online and Continuing Education last year, when pandemic lockdowns began.
For summer 2020, the college presented the course Pandemics and People, then in the fall offered The Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights, both free to students and non-students via Zoom.
When planning a course for the spring, Matt said, “I asked my colleagues, what is the big issue on everyone’s mind? They said: How polarized we have become.”
Each speaker offers different contexts to analyze the state of our society, looking back as far as the Civil War, but also discussing new factors, like social media.
“The question that a wide array of scholars are grappling with is: Is this a continuation of longer-term patterns, or is this something brand new?” Matt said.
Apart from the political divide, the different speakers touch on issues such as race, civil rights and economic inequality.
“The point is to get as many different perspectives as possible,” Matt said. “We want to take all of these presentations together and see what bigger portrait they leave us with.”
Matt expects the college will present another course in the fall, with the topic yet undetermined.
Upcoming speaker Viviana Felix, former diversity affairs officer for the city of Ogden, will speak about what uniting and dividing factors on a local level with a presentation titled “Diversity in Ogden” on April 6.