Why one organization is giving $2,000 grants to promote civil discourse

Bringing together disparate groups in a variety of ways may benefit higher education institutions and students.

Two student-led organizations on campus that have different viewpoints coming together in the same place to host an event? What could go wrong? Or, what could go right?

The Common Sense Society, a non-profit foundation that promotes “liberty, prosperity and beauty”, is banking on the strategy working and believes that the foundations of freedom of speech and civil discourse in the United States depend on it.

So it is challenging higher education groups to work together to hold debates or other gatherings and will pony up as much as $2,000 in grant money to make that happen. Those willing to participate have two weeks to formulate their plans as the application deadline closes on Oct. 13.

So why this, why now?

“There is no bigger threat to higher education than the absence of open discussion and debate on campus,” said Marion Smith, President and CEO of  Common Sense Society. “Suppression of free expression on college campuses has never been more prevalent.”

Whether it’s the polarized political climate or climate change, debates on social justice or health care, these are just a few of the topics that not only have divided Americans but led some leaders to try to tamp down free speech. Critical race theory is one of the strongest examples as governors and states have sought to bar it from classrooms.

The idea behind the grants is to bring disparate groups of individuals together to discuss issues and unite on solutions while keeping the flow of dialogue alive. There are few better places than on college campuses, where a multitude of cultures and thought fuse in a structured and powerful academic environment. However, in order to keep the discourse civil and the groups conversing, events such as those suggested by Common Sense must take place.

“We have a path out of America’s crisis of contempt and coercion. We must provide pathways for the next generation of leaders to speak without fear and engage in civil discourse,” Smith said. “This is often encouraged by structured debate on college campuses. As a society, we need to relearn how to encounter conflicting ideas without dehumanizing those who hold them.”

The Common Sense Society understands the power of civil discourse and debate because it has helped launch hundreds both in the United States and abroad. It also has fellowship opportunities in the UK, Hungary and one on U.S. soil in Bluffton, SC.

CSS officials say hosting these events should provide benefits to the entire community—be it across campus or across the region institutions serve. They offered up three possibilities for events:

  • Hosting a debate with public discussion that includes opposing views but lets participants and the audience know why having forums with open, civil dialogue make sense
  • Holding a beautification effort or campus-clean-up initiative
  • Having a social gathering that brings the groups together to share perspectives with a speaker who can help facilitate or lead discussions

The CSS said it has many more ideas that can get the conversation going and can even recommend speakers as well as provide frameworks on debates that work. Those can be entered on application forms.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

Most Popular