The past few years haven’t been an easy time to champion civil discourse in America, but several CSU students are taking on the challenge.
Last month, four student interns with CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) were invited to the inaugural Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Ithaca Initiative National Student Dialogue in Wilmington, Delaware. The new conference, a project of the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy and Administration, aims to engage students, faculty, and academic staff in developing civil discourse tools and skills to utilize at their universities nationwide.
CPD interns Willow Paul, Liam Bureau, Grace Crangle, and Catie Marqua joined Professor Martín Carcasson, Director of the Center, in traveling in late April to take workshops from and meet with other civil discourse scholars.
For students, engagement is the key to optimism
At the conference, CSU students chose to workshop strategies on free speech versus hate speech. Graduate student Willow Paul explained that “recent activity on the plaza and student discourse” at CSU is what caused this issue to rise to the top. The conference allowed Paul and other CPD interns to collaborate with different universities on the issue. “We hope to apply what we brainstormed by fostering dialogue between our student body and administration,” Paul said.
Paul is pursuing her M.A. in Communication Studies with a Deliberative Practices Specialization, and previously earned a B.A. from CSU in Communication Studies with a minor in Political Communication. She researches how to promote the kinds of deliberative democracy practices the CPD performs in a polarized political culture. “In other words,” she said, “I believe we should not feel required to sacrifice our personal relationships due to political difference.”
But rejecting that sacrifice requires more than just good intentions. Healthy personal relationships and communities alike depend upon the practical communication skills these interns are developing at the CPD, and at this new conference.
Sophomore Catie Marqua, a Communication Studies major, recognizes how important deliberatively
engaging with her community is. “My work with the CPD has provided the most profound and memorable experiences I have had in college thus far,” she said.
After completing her training to be a student facilitator last year, Marqua recently “facilitated a conversation for the city regarding equity issues in Fort Collins and one addressing the growing political polarization in our community.” The SNF conference left her feeling “inspired by the different interactions I had with students from various universities and hopeful for the future knowing there are so many bright and intelligent individuals working towards improving democracy.”
Liam Bureau has been similarly inspired by his work at the CPD. A sophomore studying Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts, Bureau explained that thanks to the hands-on training CPD interns receive, “each event we have planned and run has left me more optimistic about local issues and effective community action as a whole.”
Bureau found the SNF conference deeply meaningful. “It was very encouraging to hear what other students at the conference were involved in,” he said, “both because of each program’s unique strategies for reaching a similar goal, and because of the perspective they provided on our own deliberative program here at CSU.”
For these students, the key to their optimism during these polarized times has been to apply lessons from their classrooms and training sessions out in the world. The CPD gives them the tools to do meaningful work as engaged members of their communities in the university and across northern Colorado.
About the CPD
Established in 2006, CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) is housed in the Department of Communication Studies and serves as an impartial resource for the northern Colorado community to assist in community problem-solving. Director and Professor Martín Carcasson, Associate Director and Associate Professor Katherine Knobloch, and Managing Director Sabrina Slagowski-Tipton oversee the center. Every semester, the CPD analyzes issues, designs public participation events, hosts forums that students facilitate, and writes reports on key issues while working with a wide variety of local institutions.
The CPD is dedicated to enhancing local democracy through improved public communication and community problem-solving. Their latest work includes the Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project and the Minimum Wage Community Guide Program. Learn more about their work and how you can get involved at their website: https://cpd.colostate.edu.
About the SNF Ithaca Initiative
The first annual Biden School’s SNF Ithaca Initiative National Student Dialogue conference assembled students from all over country “to discuss, debate, and develop policy solutions that would benefit from bi-partisan collaboration.” Through the conference, the Biden Institute aims to work together with students, faculty, and administrators to create policy solutions that promote civility on college campuses nationwide.
This initial conference is just one program of the SNF Ithaca Initiative, which was founded in 2021. Learn more about the conference and the other programs of the SNF Ithaca Initiative at https://www.bidenschool.udel.edu/research-public-service/stavros-niarchos-foundation-ithaca-initiative.