This evening, a group of Cal State Long Beach journalism/public relations students will host a Zoom call aimed at improving the level of discourse in our society by utilizing the principles and methods of, wait for it, speed dating.

Ironically, they plan on doing this by involving the subjects considered to be the third rail of first dates: politics/social issues.

The group, which calls itself CivilityLB, describes the process, set to begin at 6 p.m., thusly:

“Similar to the concept of speed dating/speed friending, participants will have seven minutes to intimately discuss a pressing social issue with a stranger. Once that time is up, a rotation will occur and the participant will be paired with a new stranger to discuss another social issue. CivilityLB aims to show participants that regardless of how tough the conversation is, they can engage in civil discussions with strangers, even if they disagree with their viewpoints.”

The event is open to everyone. CivilityLB’s Shani Crooks says her team has studied not only how to de-escalate potentially ugly situations but methods of moving conversations “in a more constructive way.”

Originally the brainchild of team member Alyssa Canales, CivilityLB team leader Samantha Troisi said the group pushed on with the concept because “standing idly by is no longer an option. I know that if we bring the community together and teach everyone to look at things from another point of view, we can really make a difference.”

And OK, we can feel a healthy portion of you now rolling your eyes or shaking your heads at what you consider the group’s well-meaning naïveté. The members of CivilityLB say they are well aware that a single Zoom call on a single Wednesday evening is limited in what it can accomplish, but that doesn’t mean you give up.

“We know there are people who are going to say that we’re foolish for trying to save the world,” said  Crooks. “But why can’t we at least start? Why can’t we raise awareness that there are better communication practices to be utilized. I mean, I should be able to debate with you and disagree with you and not be in fear for my life.”

And OK, if high ideals doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you will be buoyed by the fact that Wednesday’s event is part of a months-long program by CivilityLB as it competes in the Bateman Competition, the Public Relations Student Society of America’s premier national case study competition for public relations students. The Bateman gives groups the opportunity to apply classroom education and internship experiences to create and implement a full public relations campaign for a non-profit organization.

Cal State Long Beach has traditionally done well in the Bateman, which, last year, had 70 schools participate. In fact, the school took first place in 2019.

While this year’s campaign officially defines itself as encouraging “community civility,” Crooks said it could just as easily be defined as “kindness.” (Maybe fittingly, today’s Zoom call takes place on Random Acts of Kindness Day.)

To that end, they have an ambitious menu of events ranging from self-publishing a children’s book, to a virtual round table focusing on racial issues in corporate America, to hosting an upcoming “pay it forward” event where the public is encouraged to purchase coffee for a stranger. And, of course, there’s this evening’s event.

“For me, CivilityLB is more than just a school campaign,” Troisi said. “This is our chance to help improve Long Beach and change the course of America for generations to come.”

If you’d like to participate in this evening’s meeting, click here. The meeting’s ID is 836 5112 9895.

And hey, if you do participate, you know, be nice.