Discussion Guidelines

The following guidelines are for any discussions that happen at Free@VT events or in forums maintained or moderated by Free@VT. The purpose of these guidelines is to maximize feelings of inclusiveness and minimize unintentional discrimination.

Big Rules

Rule #1. No bigoted language. Refrain from language that seeks to dismiss or demean through association with a negative stereotype.

Rule #2. No ‘Other’-ing language: Avoid language that implies or establishes an “Us vs. Them” framework.

Rule #3. No threats. Do not threaten the physical, emotional, social, economic, or political well being of others.

Sometimes, what we intend to say is not what other people hear. When a moderator thinks that a person has broken one of these rules, that moderator will directly ask if that was the intent of the statement. If the person then chooses to harass or threaten others, they will be asked to leave.

Discussion Modes

The following discussion modes may be found during our meetings or in online discussions. We will often break up into small groups, each of which will carry on a conversation in a different way. People may freely choose which group they join and may switch groups at any time.

The topic under discussion in each group will be made clear to those joining that group so that people may avoid topics with which they are likely to be uncomfortable.


The focus of panda discussions is the sharing of viewpoint, emotion, and experience. Only questions for clarification should be asked. This is intended to be a low-confrontation mode of interaction. People more comfortable with academic style discourse may find this mode frustrating.

Participants should keep in mind that the silence of others is not to be taken as agreement with what has been expressed. It merely signifies the group’s willingness to allow each other to express themselves. To encourage participants to be more willing to share their thoughts and feelings, it is asked that discussions in a panda group do not leave that  group.


The focus of owl discussions is education through mutual understanding. Participants should expect to explore many sides of an issue before the relative merits of those sides are directly discussed. This is intended to be a mode of interaction where a moderate amount of confrontation is allowed.

Challenges to fact are permitted. Socratic and mildly leading questions are also allowed. Playing devils advocate should be avoided until other lines of discussion have been exhausted.


Leopard discussions seek to explore all sides of a topic, including the personal viewpoints of the participants, and argue the relative merits of those sides. This mode can often allow for a high degree of confrontation and may well be uncomfortable to those not used to intense academic discussion.

Challenges to fact and reasoning are to be expected. All civil questions and responses are allowed. Responsible devil’s advocacy may be used.