Conversations for the Common Good

Conversations for the Common Good

Conversations for the common good is an interdisciplinary, university and community-wide movement linking Bloomsburg University students, staff, faculty, and administrators, plus community partners and the general public in a single goal: to invest time, talent, and resources to promote dialogue that unites, and bridges seemingly vast divides, within the community it serves.

Inspired by the VIA/BU collaboration American Creed in February 2018, and underwritten with the generous support of the Office of the President of Bloomsburg University, this movement hopes to generate informed, civilized discourse about meaningful questions related to civic life in a twenty-first-century democracy.

  • What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States?
  • What responsibilities do we have to one another in our community?
  • What rights do we enjoy under the Constitution?
  • Do all citizens enjoy those rights equally, and what are we called to do if the answer is “no?”
  • What is the real meaning of the guarantee of free speech embodied in the First Amendment, especially in the age of social media?
  • How should U.S. citizens respond when public expressions of protest are questioned and criticized?
  • Where do we find truth in public media, especially on the internet?
  • How do we distinguish between reliable and false information presented through social media outlets?
  • What is “hate speech,” and should it be protected the same way as other kinds of speech?
  • How should we respond when we see hate speech used?
  • What liberties do we possess as citizens, and how do we appropriately claim them?
  • What responsibilities do we have as citizens, and how do we live up to them?
  • What are the common values that unite us, when political passions and rhetoric sometimes enflame and divide us?

These questions may make us uncomfortable but are essential to explore. In Conversations for the common good, we explore such questions in interactive community events that are free and open to the public.

2021-22 Conversations for the Common Good

The 9/11 attacks: actions and reactions View Playbacks on WVIA

Following selected clips from the PBS FRONTLINE entitled America After 9/11 (2021) on 9/11 and the US response, a moderated panel of witnesses explored their memories, reactions and responses in a recording made in Carver Hall at Bloomsburg University.  The panel included Elizabeth Miller (Rule of Law Fellow with September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows; and BU graduate), Steve Coll, (Pulitzer Prize winning author; Dean, Columbia University School of Journalism; and staff writer, The New Yorker), and Joseph Bennett (former U.S. Army soldier, pilot, and BU graduate). Recorded broadcast by VIA Public Media.

NOTES for faculty.  Students and faculty who use the recording linked above may wish to explore the following questions: What happened that day?  What happened for our panelists?  What happened for us?  Did our reactions change over time?  What narratives about 9/11 were presented to us and when?  What were the motivations of the individuals who attacked?  What were U.S. citizens told about them, and why?  Did the world change forever, as the usual narrative suggests?  If so why, and if not, why not?  What is “terrorism,” and how have we responded to it?  How should we respond to it? Faculty may want to suggest students watch the complete PBS FRONTLINE special.

In a live webcast from 5-7PM on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022 from the WVIA studios in Pittston, a moderated panel will share their knowledge on the development of the rendition/detention program, and on their understanding—and personal experience—of the effect of the suspensions of U.S. law and human rights ideas on individuals.  The panelists joining in person or remotely include: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, (best-selling author, and fourteen-year Guantánamo detainee), Andy Worthington (activist, writer, founder of CloseGuantá, and Elizabeth Miller (Rule of Law Fellow with September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows), who developed an unlikely friendship with Mr. Slahi.  Recorded broadcast by VIA Public Media

Faculty Notes We'll have the opportunity to explore some profound questions: After 9/11, did notions of “human rights” and individual liberty shift, or have they always been tied to matters of location, race, and religion?  What do prisons like GTMO, Abu Ghraib, and the so-called “black sites” scattered around the world represent?  What would help the public become more informed about abuse of human rights at GTMO and elsewhere, in this post 9/11 world?  How have changes in U.S. law such as the Patriot Act affected civil liberties for ordinary citizens? What might the friendship between Ms. Miller and Mr. Slahi suggest about potential positive paths forward, twenty years after the attacks? 

Faculty may want to suggest that students view the following to prepare for the panel and to deepen their experiences: PBS FRONTLINE special America After 9/11 (2021) on 9/11 and the U.S. response, or The Mauritanian, a movie inspired by the experience of Mr. Slahi, or The Report, a 2019 film on the Senate investigation into the rendition and torture program.

In a live webcast from 5-7 PM on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 from the WVIA studios in Pittston, a moderated panel explored activist experiences promoting “restorative justice” in the interest of healing apparent personal, political and social divides in the post-9/11 era.  Panelists joining in person or remotely: Terry Kay Rockefeller (founding member, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows), Tammy Krause (Defense-Victim Outreach pioneer), Elizabeth Miller (Rule of Law Fellow with September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows; and BU graduate). Recorded broadcast by VIA Public Media
Faculty Notes Questions that faculty can explore with students could include: What is justice? What has the term meant in relation to the 9/11 attacks?  Is there a difference between justice and the “justice” the U.S. government pursued over the last twenty years?  What new directions should the government take?  What policies should be developed, and what positive effect are they likely to have?  What are the goals of restorative justice exactly?  How can the mutual distrust of those perceived to be on the “sides” identified in the aftermath of 9/11 be overcome?  What can we do as individuals?  What should we do? Faculty may want to suggest students watch the complete PBS FRONTLINE special airing in September on 9/11 and the US response (details to follow).

The Mountaintop: in collaboration with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble

In partnership with Bloomsburg University’s Conversations for the Common Good, The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble presented Katori Hall’s award-winning play, The Mountaintop. Performances were at the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Centre Street, in Bloomsburg.

The Mountaintop is set at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968, on the night before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; earlier in the day, he delivered a speech in which he foretold his own fate, “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that tonight, we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Playwright Katori Hall took this historic date with destiny and wove a powerful imagined conversation between King and a hotel maid who prompted him to examine his past, his legacy and the plight and future of African-Americans. Hall depicts King as a real man with human foibles who inspired millions to think, to hope and to move toward a momentous societal shift for equality and justice.  

Faculty Notes In addition to encouraging your students to attend the play, BTE is thrilled to be collaborating with Guest Director, Casaundra Freeman and Guest Actors, Will Bryson and Adaeze Nwoko in the roles of Dr. King and Camae.  In addition to encouraging your students to attend the play, the actors and director will come to campus as part of this collaboration.  They will hold meetings with student groups on Thursday and Friday, 3 & 4 February (times and locations to be determined).  Their discussions with students will center on the creative work and historical research involved in bringing this iconic figure to the stage, and how this play reflects on the present moment of national reckoning on racial injustice.  Questions to be explored might include how do we remember Dr. King and his legacy, and how are our memories similar to or different from the image of him presented in the play?  What was the significance of his non-violent philosophy?  Was it helping or hurting the civil rights cause?  What is a hero?  Does Dr. King’s status as a hero prevent us from understanding him and his message fully?  Depending upon your learning goals, faculty might have students explore Martin Luther King’s speech “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” given on 3 April 1968.  In addition, any number of documentaries and films may help students understand the larger historical context.


Elizabeth Dowd, Actor/Director/Producer, The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble
David Heineman, Associate Professor of Communication Studies
Oren Helbok, Executive Director, The Exchange
William V. Hudon, Professor of History
Lydia Kegler, Director, Bloomsburg Public Library
Elizabeth L. Miller, Rule of Law Fellow, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Chris Norton, Senior Vice-President, VIA Public Media
Madelyn Rodriguez, Director, Multicultural Center
Shavonne Shorter, Associate Professor of Communication Studies
Lisa M. Stallbaumer-Beishline, Professor of History
Albra Wheeler, Director, Women’s Resource Center

Previous Event History

Migration and Immigration

In partnership with The Exchange, Bloomsburg

  • Photographic exhibit, October/November: "Out of Many"
  • Keynote with Khizr Khan, Pakistani-American activist Sept. 23, 2020
  • Artists’ talk/reception (“Out of Many”) - Oct. 10, 2020, The Exchange
  • Keynote with Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost children archive (2019), Oct 15, 2020
  • Migration/immigration stories in Columbia County
  • Immigration in northeast Pennsylvania: Hazleton
illustration of Carver Hall

Common Good Contact