Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Volume 11: Deliberation Nation, Week 1

Volume 11: Deliberation Nation, Week 1

Every spring semester, honors freshmen students enrolled in the Rhetoric & Civic Life courses form groups and collaborate to host a series of events called Deliberation Nation. Deliberation Nation takes the form of dozens of student-run deliberations held across the State College area, which are promoted and sponsored by the Center for Democratic Deliberation

These deliberations, open to the public, address a wide-range of pressing social, scientific, and political dilemmas, from affirmative action, to genetic engineering, to the opioid crisis. Participants are encouraged to engage productively with one another by thinking critically, discussing areas of disagreement, and proposing possible solutions. The individual student groups divide themselves into sub-groups, each of which is tasked with:

  1. Addressing a particular subset of the issue or portion of the deliberation
  2. Leading the discussion by offering information, posing questions, and considering different points of view. 

Regardless of the outcome, students are given the opportunity to learn the value, the challenges, and the structure of public deliberations. In doing so, the students are preparing for civic life in a country often rife with contention and polarization. The hope is that perhaps, through their knowledge, they will begin to improve the quality of our national conversations. 

We wanted to participate in these discussions and see what our freshmen class thought of deliberation. So, this week, we had the pleasure of attending two of these Deliberation Nation events and interviewing the students who arranged them. 

“Breaking the Chains: Deliberating on the Reintegration of Released Prisoners.

First, we traveled to Fraser Street Commons to attend “Breaking the Chains: Deliberating on the Reintegration of Released Prisoners.” Over the course of the deliberation, the student sub-groups led open discussions on implementing halfway transition programs, developing programs that help released prisoners get jobs, and addressing the stigma surrounding released prisoners.

These are all tactics targeted at reducing recidivism rates and reforming our criminal justice system. So what did the students learn about deliberation by creating and participating in the event? 

“[Deliberation involves] working together to come up with ideas rather than getting angry with each other and blocking out other sides. I think deliberation is much more open-minded. You should be able to sway in how you feel after a deliberation.” – Ryan Frasca

“I think it’s great to share our thoughts and fill the gaps in other people’s logic and minds, to work together to develop and come-up with the best plan possible.” – Chris Egg-Krings

“I feel like the biggest problem we have in society in terms of finding solutions to problems involves deliberation. Everything is too much debate, where we’re trying to find one particular solution to a problem, where what we really need is for people to find common ground between different solutions and approaches to the problem. That way, we can find where we can all meet together and compromise.” – Davon Chen

“Deliberation helps put out all of the ideas, get rid of some stereotypes people might be going on about because of one experience.” – Antonios Stylianides

“Let’s Be Blunt: How Should America Redefine its Drug Narrative?

Later in the week, we visitedWebster’s Bookstore Café to attend “Let’s Be Blunt: How Should America Redefine its Drug Narrative?” Like the first deliberation we attended, the event was divided into three approaches to the topic.

We first discussed changing the public narrative on drug addiction, then addressed the possibility of legalizing certain drugs and decriminalizing others, and finally considered if we could make addiction rehabilitation centers more accessible. 

We had the opportunity to speak with several of the students who created and hosted the deliberation:

“I think these deliberations allow for really good discussion on a variety of topics. I think it allowed a lot of us to come up with new perspectives on a particular topic, which was really valuable.” – Stephen Andrews

“I believe these deliberations provide an environment for people to talk about topics often discussed in private or in small groups. In these large groups, you get more perspectives and opinions, and find more common-ground and tensions.” – Dan Lennon

“They expand your horizons. As constituents or future constituents, we have to make policy or influence policy that will be implemented in the future. And these events help us to be more informed so that we can help society move forward.” – Kadambari Prabakar

“I think these events are really important because there are not many places outside the classroom where people can have these types of discussions that aren’t debates, but rather open forums for people to contribute their ideas, talk about problems they find important, and help impact policies.” – Kaitlyn Bridge 

“[Deliberation is] important in this political climate, because a lot of people want to talk and no one really wants to listen. People can get really wrapped-up in their thoughts and believe the first thing they see or hear. It’s difficult to change your mindset. In deliberating, it’s much easier to listen because you’re so up-close and personal with everyone and you have to sit there and hear their thoughts before you can formulate a response.” – Connor DiBella

“It’s really important to hear and listen to each other’s values to come to any sort of solution.” – Josie Golder 

“Deliberation helps eliminate the ‘he said-she said’ and creates a ‘we said.’ We can work to help others and help ourselves, understand people more in the process, and create a brighter future.” – Lia O’Leary

In Conclusion

With students like these, we can’t help but expect a brighter future and more open-minded conversations. 

We will continue our coverage of Deliberation Nation in our next article, recording more thoughts and comments from our freshman honors class. You still have the opportunity to attend a Deliberation Nation event! Events run until Thursday, February 28. See the calendar here. We look forward to seeing you out there!