By Windy Y. Lawrence, John J. Theis
The skills of public dialogue and deliberation are critical for civic engagement programs in higher education because they provide students with the knowledge necessary for addressing wicked problems in our democracy. In the 2014 – 2015 academic year, University of Houston Downtown (UHD) Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) partnered with the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at Lone Star College Kingwood (LSC-Kingwood) to capitalize on the city of Houston’s Citizenship Month and provide a shared civic experience for students. The CPD at UHD and the CCE at LSC-Kingwood worked together to carry out a series of community deliberative dialogues over the course of the academic year. In this study, we perform a qualitative analysis of student responses on four open-ended questions we administered at four of those deliberative forum events, including two on the mission of higher education, one on energy, and one on guns on campus. Our qualitative analysis is based on responses to 195 questionnaires administered to students on three subject-specific forums. Our analysis reveals that the forums influenced and changed the ways in which students had previously experienced or talked about politics. As such, academic institutions need to think more purposefully as to how we might embed these types of opportunities for students into their civic curriculum across the span of their education so that they have opportunities to build the skills needed to help citizens build a different type of politics that is able to address wicked problems in an effective and productive manner.