Students tackle political and social issues in Deliberation Nation

Leading up to spring break, first-year honors students enrolled in the Rhetoric and Civic Life course held more than 50 deliberations for students and community members over a two week period. The event, called Deliberation Nation, engaged 570 students and more than 50 community members in deliberative discussions around topics ranging from privacy in modern technology, to labeling of GMO’s, to mental health awareness.

Working in teams, students in the course devised and framed a deliberative discussion on a topic important to the communities where they live and learn. Then, they led the discussion between their peers and members of the community. “I can honestly say I never thought I would be in Schlow Library, dressed up, and leading a deliberation for a gen ed,” said Nick Pazuchanics, a freshman majoring in labor and employment relations. “To be completely honest I don't think I could have even told you what a deliberation was before taking this class.”

During the weeks leading up to the deliberations, students learned about public controversy and the differences between debate, which is confrontational in nature, and deliberation, which is collaborative and focused on common understanding. Students also learned how to talk about polarizing topics and how to properly engage in conversations about complicated issues.

“This project definitely aligns with what we have been learning in the classroom. Our goal in this course is to obtain comprehensive training in oral, written, visual, and digital communication. With this project, we put our beliefs, values, and stories in play with others, focusing on dialogue more than monologue, listening more than expressing, and understanding more than asserting, all to discover the greatest good for the community,” said Olivia Richards, a freshman majoring in mathematics. 

Rhetoric and Civic Life is a two semester course, giving students and the instructor more time to get to know each other. “This class was small enough that I found a group of friends in it, and it was interesting enough to make the extra work it requires not seem so bad,” said Pazuchanics. “I believe this CAS [communication arts and sciences] class has helped to make Penn State feel like a home to me.”

To Richards, the interactive nature of the course stands out. “In most classes I’ve taken for my major, projects do not have as many qualities of engagement, deliberation and thought as this project does. My general education courses, including this one, have exceeded my expectation and allowed me to change my perspective and discuss topics that I never would have addressed without this opportunity.”

Rhetoric and Civic Life is an honors course 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 Millennial Scholars. The course is sponsored by the Center for Democratic Deliberation in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. To learn more about the course, visit

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated March 14, 2016