The Civil Discourse Lab at the University of New Hampshire was established in November 2017 by co-directors Jennifer Borda and Renee Heath within the Department of Communication. The CDL works to locate communication practices in the relationship between civility, academic freedom, and freedom of expression in the classroom, within the administration, and on campus. This Lab was launched with the expressed mission to integrate pedagogy, scholarship and praxis “to strengthen the ability of our students and community members to conduct meaningful conversations, collaborate, and make decisions about sometimes difficult but important topics to a civil society.”
The CDL believes that our democracy requires more people who value (and also research, teach, and practice) these abilities, especially in this time of deep partisanship, discord, and tribalism. This is done through the curriculum, which teaches dialogue, public dialogue, deliberation, propaganda, persuasion, and general problems, conflict mediation, and collaboration. Each semester, 25-50 students and alumni affiliated with the Lab by attending approved extracurricular lectures on topics that build their knowledge and empathy on difficult issues, equity, and power relationships, while also informing their praxis of engaging in and facilitating difficult conversations. Affiliates also are trained and volunteer their time to design deliberative dialogues and facilitate discussions on and off-campus. Since spring 2018, the CDL has developed and facilitated discussions on immigration, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the American Dream, climate change, and the stigma of addiction. Some of the “signature” features of Civil Discourse Lab designed dialogues and issue guides are to examine how/why “language matters,” to separate ideological positions from underlying emotions and values, and to encourage discursive openings that allow for learning and understanding (e.g. “calling in” instead of “calling out.”). These frames are employed to support students in talking together through public problems in a way that is inclusive rather than divisive and pragmatic rather than partisan.