The Deliberative Citizenship Initiative has many origin stories, as it represents the convergence of the interests and efforts of several faculty, students, and staff at Davidson College. For example, back in 2017, as proponents of creating more deliberative opportunities in the classroom, Van Hillard, Director of Davidson’s Writing Program, Stacey Riemer, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement, Michael Hogan, Visiting Professor and former Chair of the Communications Program, and Kevin Marinelli, then Director of the Speaking Center, developed a proposal to fund a Civic Discourse and Deliberation Project.
As Vice President of Student Life, Byron McCrae also frequently promotes more dialogue and deliberation as a critical component of campus culture. In 2018, soon after he became Davidson’s Dean of Students, Dean McCrae helped develop a funding proposal entitled “Principled Leadership In a Polarized World,” which was designed to “ensure that all Davidson graduates can engage and lead productively on controversial issues with those who have very different perspectives from themselves.” While these two proposals were not ultimately funded, many of their ideas have been incorporated into the DCI.
Meanwhile, Graham Bullock had been engaging with students on the topics of polarization and deliberation in his courses on American politics, citizenship, and leadership since coming to Davidson in 2011. After receiving tenure in political science and environmental studies in 2017, he began to orient more of his teaching, research, and service to the subject of deliberation as a potential response to the increasing polarization across the country. He co-published an article on the effects of “responsive accommodation” on polarization in Environmental Politics in 2017, and as Co-Director of the Davidson in Washington Program in 2018, he taught a course on Polarization and Partisanship in American Politics.
John Crawford ’20 was a student in this class while also serving as a press fellow for Congresswoman Alma Adams that summer. The following spring he completed an independent study on polarization and deliberation in North Carolina with Dr. Bullock, and they jointly began developing further research projects on related topics.
That spring, Lizzie Kane ’22 published an op-ed in The Davidsonian entitled, “Quillen and the College Should Promote Free Speech,” which argued that Davidson “should actively be working to prepare its students for compromise and disagreement.” She teamed up with several other students to begin exploring different ways to promote better dialogue and mutual understanding on campus.
Throughout this time, Stacey Riemer and her colleagues in the Center for Civic Engagement have been working to encourage more dialogue and deliberation both on campus among students and in collaboration with community organizations in the Charlotte area. The Bonner Scholars and Chidsey Fellows, for example, both have participated in several National Issues Forums and World Cafes hosted by the Center, and Dr. Riemer has facilitated several of those sessions. She has also explored related themes in her courses on civic engagement.
In the summer of 2019, all of these various threads of interest and activity fortuitously came together. Credit it perhaps to the interdisciplinary and collegial nature of a liberal arts college. Graham Bullock and Van Hillard got together and began exploring the idea of creating a new initiative on deliberation. John Crawford was working as a research assistant for Dr. Bullock that summer on a project related to polarization, and was also involved in these conversations, as was Mike Hogan. They also connected with Byron McCrae (at the advice of Carol Quillen), Lizzie Kane (at the advice of Mike Hogan), and Stacey Riemer (because of their past work together). From these conversations, the idea of the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative was born, and Graham Bullock, John Crawford, Van Hillard, Lizzie Kane, Byron McCrae, and Stacey Riemer and all agreed to serve as the first co-conveners of the initiative.
For much of the summer and fall of 2019, these co-conveners met individually and in group sessions with over 100 students, faculty, staff, and community members about the DCI and what they would like to see it do. These discussions were incredibly supportive and insightful and helped improve the design of the initiative. Those who were interested became members of the DCI’s Curricular and Co-Curricular Working Groups, which continued these conversations.
During this time, several funding proposals were submitted to foundations seeking support for the initiative, and in December 2020 The Duke Endowment agreed to provide a two-year grant for the DCI. This grant will enable the initiative to support two cohorts of Deliberative Citizenship Fellows, a guest lecture series, a range of training workshops, deliberative forums, D teams, curricular innovation and research mini-grants, and more. Suffice to say, we are grateful for this support, and look forward to moving forward with the initiative. It represents an amazing confluence of individuals, ideas, interests, and efforts from across campus around a topic of urgent and critical importance, and will proceed in that same spirit of innovation through communication, coordination, and collaboration.
If you would like to learn more about progress we have made in implementing the initiative, click here.