Kimberly Piatt, Associate Director of Community Development, The College at Brockport
April 5, 2018
As with most colleges and universities across the country, The College at Brockport strives to be a college engaged with its community. One essential aspect of this value is the necessity for members to be informed about a variety of social issues and willing to explore perspectives other than their own. In juxtaposition of the typical debate model, deliberation offers the opportunity to engage members in a thoughtful exploration of the options available to solve community problems. The National Issues Forums (www.nifi.org) offers one such model for this practice.
About two years ago, Brockport began using Deliberative Dialogues to engage all members of our campus community in discussions that promote perspective taking, collective problem solving and the challenging of assumptions. Since that time, we have been amazed at the different populations we have engaged and the differing viewpoints shared about topics like safety and justice, poverty, hunger, drug and substance abuse, immigration and many others.
First Things First: To accomplish this goal, we first needed to recruit and train a cadre of facilitators from across campus. Through attendance at the annual CLDE Meeting in Baltimore and other sessions, we trained members of our team in the process. Next, we brought in the ever-engaging Verdis Robinson, National Director of The Democracy Commitment, to provide a full day “Train the Trainer” session. The full-day workshop not only trained participants to be facilitators, but also to train facilitators. Next week we will host another facilitator training session for students, faculty and staff, bringing our number of trained facilitators up to more than 50.
Finding Opportunities: The next step to making a concerted effort to bring Deliberative Dialogues to campus was seeking out natural areas of connection. Our multi-year Leadership Development Program uses the Social Change Model as theoretical framework. The group value of Controversy with Civility served as an outcome directly related to this process. As a result, the curriculum for the second level of the program changed to include monthly deliberations as part of the pedagogy. The response from the students has been immensely positive. Additionally, we worked with the supervisors of student leaders in our division (RAs, Union Managers, Peer Mentors, etc.) to include a Deliberative Dialogue during our Student Leader Collaborative Training. By focusing on our direct areas of influence, we have been able to gain momentum in spreading dialogues across campus.
Partnerships Matter: Finally, in order to gain campus-wide buy in, we have cultivated relationships with faculty in a variety of disciplines to bring dialogue into the classroom. This actually ended up being quite easy to do. Using the issue guides available through the National Issues Forum, we proactively sought out instructors of courses related to the various topics provided. We then schedule a dialogue during that class time that is open to the entire campus. As a result, we have engaged students who are learning about the topic in an exploration of the policies and potential solutions. In this way, students are able to connect course content to real-life implications. We have had immense success with this method, offering at least two Deliberative Dialogues each month with an average of 20 attendees each.
Overall, we have found Deliberative Dialogues to be an effective tool to engage not only students, but also faculty, staff and community members in an exploration of topics of civic concern. If you are looking for a way to meaningfully discuss community issues, look no further than deliberations.
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