WDPD Leads State, National Discussions
by Richard Paige
March 17, 2016
Wabash College’s Democracy and Public Discourse (WDPD) initiative will lead several high profile community discussions over the next six weeks aimed at improving individual community involvement.
In conjunction with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, the WDPD facilitated “Value Your Voice: Redefining Indiana,” March 22, in Columbus, IN. The roundtable and brainstorming session, at the Columbus Learning Center’s Summerville Room on the IUPC campus, hoped to enhance citizens’ involvement in their communities.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller opened the event and touched on the 2015 Indiana Civic Health Report, which studied citizen involvement in community issues, volunteering, voting, and other forms of civic engagement. From there, attendees will break into small group and the WDPD Democracy Fellows, the initiative’s student leaders, will guide roundtable conversations about Indiana’s civic health. Recommendations from those conversations will be shared with the audience as a whole.
Four Wabash Democracy Fellows – Adam Burtner ’17, Jack Kellerman ’18, Michael Lumpkin ’18, and Austin Weirich ’18 – have worked closely with the Attorney General Zoeller’s staff to develop a framework for next week’s conversations.
“Our students have done a fantastic job in organizing this with the Attorney General's staff,” said Dr. Sara A. M. Drury, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and the WDPD Director. “This project will stretch their abilities and problem-solving capacity, because it is applying deliberation to the broader goal of improving communities, while still trying to balance that within a state-wide topic.”
Further, the WDPD will run a student leadership event at the University of Delaware on Tuesday, April 12, which hopes to open a dialogue about experiencing race on campus. In addition to the main discussion, WDPD Democracy Fellows will lead workshops in communication classes centering on productively talking through difficult topics, as well as meeting with University of Delaware student leaders.
The discussions in Delaware are based on an “I, Too, Am Wabash” dialogue, an event inspired by college social media campaigns and created by Anthony Douglas ’17 and the Democracy Fellows during the 2014-15 academic year to marry social advocacy with a productive conversation about race on campus.
Founded on the right to free expression, the WDPD advances the kinds of communication that cultivates democracy. Its goals are to teach constructive practices of engagement and communication, stimulate productive public discourse, develop civic leadership, and promote the free speech rights and responsibilities of every individual. Working with community partners, the Democracy Fellows learn to forge connections among diverse communities, understand and diagnose the complexity of public problems, and ultimately lead the public in determining the best approaches to solving problems.
The WDPD has worked with community partners to develop public deliberation events on a range of topics, including quality of place in rural communities, race, free speech and social media, substance abuse, environmental sustainability and public health.