MIT Civil Discourse Project launches speaker series

Rickard: The debates “encourages diverse opinion and lively debate while maintaining a high standard of intellectual rigor.”

A new speaker series has been launched at MIT, featuring hour-and-a-half debates about topics ranging from climate change to feminism. The series is part of the new Civil Discourse Project, headed by Humanities, Arts, and Social Studies department professors Alex Byrne, Anne McCants, Linda Rabieh, and Brad Skow. Two speaker events have been held in recent months.

Steven Koonin, former provost at Caltech and author of "Unsettled," debated with Professor of Atmospheric Science Kerry Emanuel on climate change and whether it is an 'existential threat' or a mere 'bump in the road' on Nov. 24.

In a separate dialogue on Nov. 9, Mary Harrington, author of "Feminism Against Progress," and McCants discussed the progress of feminism and scrutinized the movement's impact on modern society. 

Assistant Director of Concourse Sasha Rickard said, "what sets the speaker series apart is the self-conscious effort to take on difficult and controversial topics in a civil, productive way. Each speaker event pairs an outside speaker who holds a position not commonly voiced within MIT with an MIT faculty member. This structure encourages diverse opinions and lively debate while maintaining a high standard of intellectual rigor."

Rickard added that "Concourse’s role within the Civil Discourse Project is to ensure that there is robust engagement with current MIT undergraduate students. Concourse students attend the speaker events as part of their first-year advising seminar and then engage with the ideas brought up by the speakers by participating in student-only debates on related topics."

Regarding other initiatives of the Civil Discourse Project, Rickard stated that there will be another faculty seminar on free expression in the spring on March 6. She said that Concourse “will also be producing a series of podcast episodes in conjunction with the speaker events."

For those interested in future events, speaker events for the spring are listed here. Individuals can reach out to Professor Linda Rabieh at for information about the Civil Discourse Project, and Sasha Rickard at for information about Concourse.