Longest-running Times Talk opens nationwide dialogue

Virtual Times Talk held after Presidential Debate

Longest-running Times Talk opens nationwide dialogue

R ecently, Georgia College had two opportunities to demonstrate Times Talk—the longest running program like it in the U.S.—for national audiences.

Individuals from 50 U.S. colleges and universities participated in the two, first-ever national conversations titled, “So, what did you think of the debate?” The discussions were held the day after the U.S. Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates. From Alaska to Delaware, 237 students, faculty, staff and community members chimed in to provide a pulse on how Americans reacted to the debates.

Dr. Jan Hoffmann, professor of rhetoric and campus coordinator of the American Democracy Project (ADP) at Georgia College, is the driving force behind Times Talk. The weekly discussion is an analysis of current events and issues, using New York Times articles to start the conversation. In line with Georgia College’s liberal arts mission, this dialogue is held in pursuit of knowledge and truth for the public good and illustrates the value of engaged citizenship. 

Dr. Jan Hoffmann facilitates an in-person Times Talk, held before the pandemic.
Dr. Jan Hoffmann facilitates an in-person Times Talk, held before the pandemic.

“Active traditions of campus and community-wide civic, civil discourse such as ours, are hard to come by, and they matter now more than ever,” said Hoffmann. “We aren’t just located in a community, we are creating community through knowledge, and growing knowledge in and through community.”

Since 2005, community members and Georgia College students, faculty and staff have been voicing their opinion about current events and issues through Times Talk. The group shares pizza while engaging in lively dialogue. Times talk occurs Wednesdays at noon in the Pat Peterson Museum Education room in Russell Library. However, that changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the discussions are held in a virtual setting. 

Kendyl Lewis
Kendyl Lewis

When scheduling allows, on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., WRGC—Milledgeville’s public radio station—hosts interviews with facilitators prior to the Times Talk. Then, Russell Library compiles a LibGuide including radio podcasts, background articles facilitators used in Times Talk and resources. Individuals can check out these items from the library, if they want to learn more about the topics covered in each session.

Times Talk is topic driven, so Hoffmann is continually searching for facilitators who are familiar with the focus of each week’s discussion—whether it’s alumni, emeritus professors, students, faculty, staff or community members. 

“Times Talk is a beautifully packaged, collaborative effort,” said Hoffmann. “We just involve so many parts of the campus in generating knowledge. There’s a wealth of expertise at Georgia College, and Times Talk provides an opportunity to showcase this each week.”

Georgia College senior Kendyl Lewis facilitated a Times Talk in the spring of 2020 on food insecurity titled “Is food the key to breaking the poverty cycle?”

“Many people don’t know what food insecurity is or what programs exist to help individuals who struggle with this issue,” she said. “I wanted to use the Times Talk as an opportunity to educate how everyone can play a role in ending food insecurity.”

Participants asked questions about the root causes of food insecurity and suggested potential solutions to help solve the problem.

“I always learn so much when I facilitate a Times Talk because the participants ask such thought-provoking questions, and they make me think about how I can continue to educate myself on the topic,” Lewis said. “Hearing other people's perspectives helps me become a better advocate for ending food insecurity, and it reignites my deep passion for helping others.”

Georgia College junior Jonathan O’Brien has always enjoyed politics. He loves to hear what other people think of world news, so much so, he was a facilitator for the Times Talks analyzing both debates. 

“Overall, I thought the national discussion was very engaging,” O’Brien said. “This serves as a reminder that civil discussions about current issues and events can still happen.”
– Jonathan O'Brien

“Folks in my sessions were not interested in surface-level questions,” O’Brien said. “They wanted to get right into the nitty-gritty of what happened at the Presidential Debate.” 

Jonathan O'Brien
Jonathan O'Brien

In the first breakout room, O’Brien and participants discussed historical presidential debate moments. They focused on how debates in the past have changed the trajectory of the race and the public's perception of a particular candidate.

“In the second room, we got into the issues: ‘Should Joe Biden commit one way or the other on the question of adding justices to the Supreme Court if elected?’ This question prompted many responses and got an excellent discussion going,” O’Brien said. “Participants also wanted to talk about the issues most important to them—COVID, healthcare and the lack of foreign policy questions brought before the candidates.”

The participants in O’Brien’s breakout rooms came from varying backgrounds, so they provided unique perspectives. 

“Overall, I thought the national discussion was very engaging. This serves as a reminder that civil discussions about current issues and events can still happen.”

The two national Times Talks Hoffmann conducted recently were requested by the executive director of the ADP, a lead initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the director of education at the New York Times, who hope to use these events to encourage more individuals to start Times Talks on their campuses.

“I’ve even written a ‘how-to’ guide for starting a Times Talk program, and I’m eager to share our experience and insights with others,” said Hoffmann. “It would be wonderful to have Times Talk on every campus in the U.S.”