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BPC and ACC Highlight Discourse Across Difference at Symposium for Community Colleges

Austin, TX – Deans, faculty, and administrators from community colleges and higher education institutions across the country gathered recently for an executive symposium on best practices to advance students’ skills and habits of respectful discourse. The event, co-hosted by Austin Community College and the Bipartisan Policy Center, took place on ACC’s campus. 

The symposium, Discourse Across Differences at Community Colleges, was led by Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, director of BPC’s Campus Free Expression Project and Grant Potts, interim dean of the Division of Language Arts, Humanities, and Communications at ACC. It featured presentations on programs that incorporate civil discourse techniques in classrooms and co-curricular activities, and how these programs could be emulated on other campuses. The conversations centered on preparing students to be critical thinkers, engaged citizens, and employees in diverse workplaces.  

“Community colleges serve a diverse student body that includes many adult and First Generation students,” said Pfeffer Merrill. “This symposium showcased programming that has proven successful for these learners.”  

Leaders of ACC’s Great Questions Seminars and Anne Arundel Community College’s Bridge to the Liberal Arts through Primary Source Texts described their programs’ focus on collaboration with faculty from different disciplines and integrating core, primary source texts into courses to increase students’ critical thinking skills, build trust among their peers, and learn to express their views and engage respectfully with others. Attendees learned about navigating the administrative and funding challenges to launch similar programs at their own institutions. 

“It’s profoundly encouraging to meet with educators from around the country and be reminded of the power of constructive civil disagreement,” said Toño Ramirez, ACC professor of philosophy and chair of the Philosophy, Religion, and Humanities Department. “I came away from the day with a renewed optimism for the role that our institutions can play toward this end.” 

Leaders from Rose State College’s Great Debates Program and Linn-Benton Community College’s Civil Discourse Program described how they developed co-curricular programs that model civil discourse and engage students in programs where students themselves practice conversing about charged social, cultural, and political questions.  

The Bipartisan Policy Center convenes programs with faculty and administrative leaders across the country to share best practices to foster a welcoming environment for robust intellectual exchange at this polarized moment in our nation’s history. 

Faculty and administrators from the following higher education institutions participated in the symposium: 

  • Anne Arundel Community College 
  • Austin Community College 
  • Cochise College 
  • Community College of Baltimore County 
  • Galveston College 
  • Holmes Community College 
  • Kingsborough Community College 
  • Linn-Benton Community College 
  • Miami Dade College 
  • New River Community College 
  • Northeastern Junior College 
  • Onondaga Community College 
  • Piedmont Virginia Community College 
  • Rappahannock Community College 
  • Rose State College 
  • University of Central Florida 
  • University of Texas at Austin Center for Community College Student Engagement 

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