The Mill Institute promotes dialogue on Middle East conflict
The Mill Institute at UATX
Mar 12, 2024

The Mill Institute promotes dialogue on Middle East conflict

‘In Gen Z discourse on this conflict today, there is absolutely no room to ask questions,’ one student said.

Maggie Kelly
Maggie Kelly
University of Austin

In the months following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, The Mill Institute at the University of Austin heard that high school students and teachers were struggling to talk about the conflict.

So the Institute, an educational nonprofit and affiliate of UATX, developed materials focused on the Middle East crisis for its latest Viewpoint Diversity Challenge. Over the past few weeks, in classrooms from Toronto, Canada to Austin, Texas, the Institute has guided open conversations about the opposing narratives that undergird the current situation. 

The Viewpoint Diversity Challenge is a free resource that supports high school classrooms to lay the foundation for open inquiry and viewpoint diversity throughout the school year. Students engage with current news stories while learning tools for exploring the underlying values, assumptions, and beliefs of opposing viewpoints. 

One participating student from Alpha High School in Austin said the Challenge fostered respectful and productive conversations.

“Regardless of our personal biases, we all sought to understand and consider the nuances of this conflict and the experiences of both sides,” Peyton Price wrote last week on X. 

Peyton participated in a Viewpoint Diversity Challenge Seminar hosted by the Mill Institute at the University of Austin’s Scarbrough campus on Wednesday, March 6.

“In Gen Z discourse on this conflict today, there is absolutely no room to ask questions and seek understanding of differing viewpoints,” Price said. “Instead, there are unprecedented levels of hatred, cancel-culture, and polarization.”

“If we can't teach and allow young people to have civil, open discussions about contentious topics, our society is not truly free and won't survive,” she continued. 

High school educators: sign up for the Mill Institute Viewpoint Diversity Challenge

Fellow Alpha student and challenge participant Lucia Scaletta said that it “made [her] week” when Alpha and the University of Austin “showed everyone that we can have hard conversations without conflict or tension.”

“It lit my heart up that Alpha and the University of Austin facilitated a productive discussion on a controversial topic,” Scaletta said. “This wasn't a lecture, a push for one side or another, or a debate. They set their intentions immediately, validated every opinion, and set the example.”

In January, the Mill Institute brought the Viewpoint Diversity Challenge on the Middle East conflict to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. 

One participant wrote:

This was an incredibly valuable workshop that challenged me to rethink my own position on this issue and to identify my own emotions that can lead to harmful assumptions about those who disagree with me. …I left with a fresh perspective and some tools for addressing this in my own mind and in future discussions with others.

Mill Institute executive director Ellie Avishai described the organization’s role in “creating dynamic classroom cultures where students do not self-censor, even when discussing hot topics like race, gender, equality, or more recently, the conflict in the Middle East.”

“We founded the Mill Institute in 2022 to provide training and resources to teachers and advisory support to administrators to navigate contentious topics with students and throughout their school communities,” Avishai said. “We were inspired by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill who wrote  that ‘he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.’”

“As Mill writes, the ability to engage with opposing ideas sits at the heart of a free and open society,” Avishai said. 

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