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Editor’s Note: This story was written by John Waters.

WINONA, MINN. – Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota began a series of discussion panels in the Fall of 2020 aimed at encouraging students to think.

The panels explore topics surrounding student interest and social importance. Questions of God and evil, religion and science, and COVID-19 lockdowns have been featured thus far.

Dr. Christopher Bobier, assistant professor of philosophy at Saint Mary’s and associate director of the Hendrickson Institute for Ethical Leadership, created the panels to provide students with the opportunity to engage in difficult questions.

Bobier said, “The goal of the panels is to spur discussions, not only to challenge the participants but especially the listeners to reflect on their own views critically in light of what’s presented.”

Students on campus have played an important part in these discussions. With an average attendance of 30, the events have been well attended. Several students have also helped organize the panels and engage in them.

Noah Reinhardt, a junior at Saint Mary’s, teamed up with Bobier to help promote these discussions. He creates posters for the panels that are then approved by RISE for publishing.

“It’s really cool to see a lot of new faces and people who share interest in a lot of the same topics come together and want to learn more from the speakers,” Reinhardt said.

These discussions provide listeners with an opportunity to hear from students and faculty outside of their major, providing a different lens for approaching the topics.

The discussions have also provided the faculty with an opportunity to think about difficult questions. Associate Theology Professor, Dr. Joyce Bautch, was selected as one of the panelists.

She said, “I really did want it to be a genuine authentic conversation about something that matters a lot to me. I think questions of God and evil prove to be very destructive for many faith lives.” Bautch was a part of the most recent panel titled “God and Evil.”

The topics brought up are often ones seen in classrooms. A survey is sent to students to gauge what topics they’d most like to discuss. The panels are then facilitated by faculty and opened for discussion. Faculty get the questions ahead of time for preparation.

A community open to critical thinking is important for Saint Mary’s University as they continue their mission of empowering students to live lives of ethical leadership.