Deliberation Nation encourages students to be community conversation starters

Students participate in one of the more than 50 events taking place during Deliberation Nation. Credit: Emilee Spokus / Penn StateCreative Commons

From Feb. 19 to March 2, honors students in Penn State’s Rhetoric and Civic Life class invited the University and State College community to participate more than 50 deliberations about current issues. Students chose topics from education to the opioid crisis to freedom of speech, and many more.

The discussions took place over refreshments at numerous downtown locations, and invitees included everyone from the general community to University administrators and faculty members. Getting different groups of stakeholders in the issues involved was a challenge that students certainly met with well-attended events. To see people with very different perspectives come together over conversation and refreshments showed one of the main purposes of the assignment: quality civic engagement.

Today’s political climate has shown the importance of civic responsibility in general and of deliberation on high-stakes issues. The Rhetoric and Civic Life class as a whole is designed to address this responsibility, but Deliberation Nation focuses as well on being civil.

The project itself is designed to promote this importance among students and get them to spread the idea to their peers and the surrounding community. In a class that built on values of civic-mindedness, public discussion fits perfectly with the rest of the curriculum.

At the beginning of each deliberation, students outlined “ground rules” for participation and established the goal as thoughtful participation and consideration of others’ ideas.

Annually, Deliberation Nation proves the attainability of having community discussion on issues that citizens are passionate about without taking the form of a debate. Participants remained calm and open-minded throughout the deliberations, setting a positive example for the rest of the Penn State community and the nation.

One thing is certain, however. The values of the Rhetoric and Civic Life course will continue to drive successful deliberations in the future, no matter what new topics may arise.

The Rhetoric and Civic Life seminar is offered jointly through the departments of English and Communication Arts and Sciences and is available for students from the Paterno Fellows Program, Schreyer Honors College, and Millennium Scholars. The course is sponsored by the Center for Democratic Deliberation in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. To learn more about the course, visit To learn more about the Liberal Arts First-Year Experience, visit

Last Updated March 22, 2018