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Article by Elise Berrocal | Photos by Evan Krape | May 11, 2022
University of Delaware’s Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration hosted nearly 20 academic institutions nationwide for its inaugural Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Ithaca National Student Dialogue in Delaware this April.
Nearly 100 student ambassadors and administrators from 16 universities, colleges, and schools across the United States, including Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership; Saint Anslem and Simpson Colleges; American, Colorado State, Delaware State, Florida International, Georgetown, James Madison, Johns Hopkins, and Tufts Universities; and the Universities of Chicago, Michigan, New Hampshire, San Francisco, and Virginia joined Biden School students, faculty, staff, and distinguished guests for an invigorating three-day dialogue on civil discourse. The weekend kicked off April 22 with a welcome reception hosted on campus by Biden Institute Chair Valerie Biden Owens, followed by two days of programming at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware.
SNF Ithaca National Student Dialogue participants ask questions and collaborate during breakout session assignments.
“On behalf of the school and the SNF Ithaca Initiative, I was so pleased to help welcome students and scholars to this inaugural event,” Biden School Dean and Charles P. Messick Chair of Public Administration Maria Aristigueta said. “At the Biden School, we recognize and prioritize the promotion of civility and discourse across political and philosophical divides. It was heartening to see such a diverse group come together from across the country to work on these important issues.”
The dialogue provided participants an introduction on civil discourse and civic engagement, as well as a unique opportunity to engage with their peers from throughout the United States about the challenges they face on their campuses, and then workshop solutions through UD expert presentations and facilitated exercises. Highlights of the weekend also included a night of Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball and an appearance by actor Chris Evans, known for his role as Captain America in the popular Marvel Avengers movie series as well as his work with A Starting Point — a video-based civic engagement platform that helps create a bipartisan channel of communication and connection between Americans and their elected officials. Thanks to the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), attendees participated in the event completely free of charge.
Students participating in the SNF Ithaca National Student Dialogue meet with Valerie Biden Owens, chair of the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute.
“The SNF Ithaca Initiative has the potential to transform how people on our campuses, and ultimately citizens of our country, are able to work together despite differences and collectively impact and address the critical issues we all face,” newly appointed SNF Chair of Civil Discourse Timothy J. Shaffer said. He started the dialogue by framing civil discourse within the broader context of the state of democracy.
“We often think about civil discourse as politeness, but we must also think about it as responsiveness to others and to our shared challenges, embracing a ‘strong’ form of civil discourse that includes dialogue, deliberation, and deep listening, as well as protest and civil disobedience,” Shaffer said. “We need to recognize that ideas about how we’re supposed to talk can sometimes hold us back from why we should engage others, especially when we have deep differences.”
Following the Biden School’s successful SNF Ithaca National Civil Discourse Summit in fall 2021, April’s dialogue sought to inspire and equip students and administrators alike to return to their institutions with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate conflict using civil discourse, as well as implement and adapt solutions based on their newfound experience.
“Students at the dialogue shared insights and learned new perspectives from one another that will help carry them forward in this work and further the goals of civil discourse and civic engagement, including how to identify and determine stakeholder groups they should bring together to address challenges and how to foster healthy relationships for productive problem-solving,” Shaffer said. “Approaching civil discourse through the lens of public policy allowed students to walk away with names to call and steps to take to address the real challenges facing their campuses.”
SNF Ithaca Student Leader Samiyah Sherman introduced a case study on civil discourse during the event.
“It meant a lot for me to participate in this dialogue with so many students from all over the country,” Sherman said. “By leading my individual session … I saw how well my peers understood the [content]. I believe that by participating in the dialogue, students were able to see how civil discourse works and how they could use it in other settings.”
UD students Samiyah Sherman, Sarah Cullen, Moses Martinez and Luke Halko, along with SNF Ithaca Program Manager Pablo McConnie-Saad (center), participate as first SNF Ithaca student cohort at National Student Dialogue event.
The Biden School’s SNF Ithaca Initiative is a new civil discourse and civic engagement program at UD supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). Named after the home of Odysseus – one of Greek mythology's greatest leaders, whose talent for persuasive discourse was revered in ancient Greece – SNF Ithaca serves not only as UD’s home base for civil discourse, but as a national hub where students from across the country can come together and develop the civic engagement skills that will strengthen our democracy.
To learn more about the Biden School’s SNF Ithaca Initiative and its work to unite college students in the spirit of civil civic engagement, visit bidenschool.udel.edu/snfithaca.
Established in 1961 and named in 2018 for the University of Delaware’s most distinguished alumnus, the 46th President of the United States, the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in research and public service activities to improve the quality of life in communities around the world. The Biden School’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni create and use interdisciplinary, nonpartisan research, and empirically based analysis to inform effective decision-making and policy and to improve leadership and administration. The Biden School partners with organizations from all sectors to discover innovative and equitable solutions to the critical challenges of our time.
In the fall 2021, the Biden School launched a new civil discourse and civic engagement pilot program supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). Called the SNF Ithaca Initiative, the program is named after the home of Odysseus — one of Greek mythology's greatest leaders, whose talent for persuasive discourse was revered in ancient Greece. For Odysseus, Ithaca represents not only the beginning of a journey but the ultimate destination. Likewise, the SNF Ithaca Initiative will serve both as the beginning of our students' journey toward becoming effective citizens and as the ultimate destination for students from across the country to come together and develop the civil civic engagement skills that will strengthen our democracy.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) is one of the world's leading private, international philanthropic organizations, making grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. SNF funds organizations and projects worldwide that aim to achieve a broad, lasting, and positive impact for society at large, and exhibit strong leadership and sound management. SNF also supports projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare. Since 1996, the Foundation has committed more than $3.3 billion through over 5,100 grants to nonprofit organizations in more than 135 countries around the world.