Human Rights Advisory Services

Human Rights Advisory Services
Human Rights Advisory Services

Event Planning Guide

Practical Suggestions For Debating Controversial Issues on Campus

The integrity of a university depends on its ability to promote discussion of various topics, including those that are controversial.   However, it is expected that these discussions will take place in a manner that is respectful of diverse perspectives and opinions.

It is possible to encourage and foster complex discussions in a way that is productive and considerate to all members of the Queen's community.  Here are some suggestions that you and your group should consider when planning an event on campus that could be viewed as controversial or offensive.

  • Research your speakers When inviting any speaker to come to campus ensure that you conduct a thorough check into their background so that you are able to respond to public inquiries. Become as familiar as possible with their angle on the issue at hand and ensure that they're able to meet your expectations. Feel free to ask your speaker for copies of their writings and speeches and speak to past event organizers who have used your speaker. If you wish your speaker to address particular issues, candidly ask them if they are willing to do so. If they refuse, perhaps you should consider bringing a different speaker
  • Consider all sides of the debate When planning a controversial campus event ensure that you are not uninformed of the "other side" of the issue.  You are certainly not obliged to support or endorse other views, but you may want to be prepared for the kinds of questions/ concerns your event may raise within the community
  • Critique your own agenda  Engaging with controversial  ideas and complex issues is an important part of the university experience. However, when planning an event that may spark controversy, it is important to remember that we all have agendas. It is healthy to question what your agenda is as you organize your event and ask yourself if your actions are motivated by a genuine desire to stimulate critical thinking or by something else.
  • Publicly promote your event A productive discussion on a controversial topic will include a diverse audience with diverse perspectives.  Let the public know that your event is imminent and, when appropriate, provide them with a list of resources pertaining to the speaker and topic. This will allow for a more informed discussion.
  • Consider appointing a moderator The moderator should be a neutral party who possesses good judgement. This person should be watchful of the tone of exchange during an event and should be assertive enough to intervene when it is necessary to remind participants of certain ground rules (e.g.  "no personal attacks")
  • Allow for a question and answer period An appropriate timeframe (probably no less than 15-20 minutes) should be provided at the end of a speech to allow the audience to ask questions or challenge what the speaker has said. Audience members should have the opportunity to refute or disagree with your speaker. Make your speaker aware that they will be expected to answer questions and engage in a respectful discussion.
  • Consult with others When in doubt seek guidance from persons with expertise in the subject area at hand, in the area of human rights and/or in security. Such individuals/groups can help ensure that your event is respectful, safe and successful.

* Special thanks to Jaqquie Kiggundu who assisted in the preparation of this guide.