Isa DeGuzman ’25 (She/Her), Staff Writer
According to the website for the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative (DCI) on Davidson’s campus, “Most of our public discourse is plagued by toxicity and a lack of deep engagement.” While Graham Bullock, Faculty Director of the DCI and Professor of Political Science, believes that “some polarization is natural and expected […] In a pluralistic society, it’s natural to have diverse opinions,” he elaborated that the current climate of hyper-polarization, which leads to dehumanization, poses serious concerns. The DCI aims to remedy this modern issue by providing space for intentional, respectful dialogue.
“The purpose of the DCI is to create spaces for Davidson students and faculty and staff and community members and alumni to come together to talk about and engage with one another on difficult but really important topics facing our society and our community,” explained Bullock.
He continued: “We believe that talk is foundational, is critical to healthy communities and healthy democracies, but it’s not enough. We also need to be talking about what to do, about the common challenges facing our communities, and then to work towards doing that. And so what deliberation can do is catalyze that work, those creative solutions that may transcend where we started, where we came into the conversation And we develop new ideas, innovative ideas that build on the best that we bring to the table.”
The organization seeks to teach deliberative skills, reinforce humane instincts, and analyze the deliberative process by the guiding values of egalitarianism, open-mindedness, generosity of spirit, and community-building. Bullock points out that these goals are in line with Davidson’s institutional mission: “to help students develop humane instincts for lives of leadership and service.”
The crux of the DCI is the Fellows program. These groups are composed of 10-13 students, staff, alumni, and community members who participate in an intensive training in the principles and practices of deliberation and facilitating conversation. This is followed by weekly meetings, readings, and discussions over the course of year to further engage these values and skills. The Fellows are responsible for leading DCI-sponsored deliberative forums and D groups.
Deliberative forums tackle current issues at both the local and national level. They begin with a panel of speakers who offer diverse perspectives on an issue. These topics have ranged from housing economic mobility in the Charlotte area to the future of democracy and Supreme Court reform. After the panel, participants are divided into smaller breakout rooms for further discussion, led by one or two Fellows.
D teams are small groups which meet repeatedly over the course of a semester. The topics of conversation for these groups are selected by the Fellows, who also facilitate the conversations. Past topics have included gun control, abortion, and college admission policies. There are two models for the D teams: multi-topic groups, which address different topics each meeting, and single-topic groups, which dig deeply into one topic over the course of several meetings. Since the start of the DCI in the fall of 2020, the participation in the D groups has grown exponentially. This past semester, over 170 people participated in the groups, comprising 17 teams. At the end of the sessions, the group articulates a statement about their agreements and disagreements, in an effort to intentionally identify their commonalities and differences.
“It really helps to introduce students to what effective communication and compromise making is like, something that I think we have really lost overtime because of how little crosstalk there is sometimes between people of different opinions,” said Kevin Garcia-Galindo ‘24, a 2022 DCI fellow.
Recently, the DCI has implemented a new format for deliberation: Commons Conversations. This structure involves Fellows leading conversation tables in Vail Commons. Up until this point, deliberations have occurred exclusively online, so these dining hall conversations represent one of the first opportunities for face-to-face deliberation. These conversations are open to any students and require no sign-up or preparation. The conversations aim to build understanding and empathy between students, as well as helping students to articulate their opinions and beliefs.
Bullock sees this as a core part of a Davidson education: “That’s really the essence of a liberal arts education: understanding for ourselves, having our own autonomy to come to our own decisions on really important issues facing our society.”
Garcia-Galindo reflected, “Getting to talk to them deeply about their beliefs and values during conversations that feel like they really matter has been such an inspiring opportunity for me, one that I hope to continue in the future.”