November 7, 2011
WOOSTER, Ohio — Becoming effective political activists with the skills to bring about meaningful change in society was the focus of “Debating for Democracy,” a recent workshop hosted by The College of Wooster.
Mandara Meyers of The Center for Progressive Leadership (CPL), a national nonpartisan political training institute, led the workshop, which was sponsored by Project Pericles, a not-for-profit organization that facilitates the inclusion of social responsibility and participatory democracy in higher education. The College of Wooster is one of 29 colleges and universities that have been invited to join Project Pericles.
Students from Earlham College, another Periclean institution, along with graduate students from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and members of the Wooster community, joined undergraduates from The College of Wooster for the daylong event.
Tom Tierney, associate professor of sociology and anthropology and chair of the department, serves as the College’s Project Pericles Director. He organized the workshop with support from Wooster’s Center for Diversity and Global Engagement, and said he hoped students would learn to frame their issues and concerns in a way that will facilitate change in the public sphere.
“The interaction among the participants was exciting,” said Tierney. “They maintained their enthusiasm throughout the day, and their evaluations of the program were overwhelmingly positive. They indicated that they learned how to effectively frame social and political issues in a manner that fosters democratic engagement among individuals of diverse backgrounds.”
College of Wooster President Grant Cornwell, in his opening remarks, said that it is part of the mission at Wooster to develop leaders of character and influence in an interdependent global community. "In a democracy", he said, "influence is achieved through language — through talking and listening, through writing and reading." He urged participants to think of the workshop as a way to develop the tools for influence in a democracy, and added that these types of endeavors are at the heart of the College’s commitment to "civic and social responsibility.” In addition, he voiced his hope that Wooster graduates will critique ways of thinking and living as well as commit on a global scale to induce social change by engaging in public discourse “carefully, precisely, respectfully, and with a high premium placed on civility and measure."
Meyers, whose mission at CPL is to facilitate training and leadership development for policy leaders, listed the goals of the workshop as (1) giving students the skills to engage with those who have conflicting viewpoints, (2) using language effectively, and (3) discovering and advancing passions.
In the first session on effective communication, Meyers discussed the importance of story telling. She made the point that it takes more than just feeding people information to get them to act. Instead, she emphasized that persuasive communication comes from an emotional level rather than an intellectual one.
Other sessions focused on values-based leadership, meant to help students “distinguish between values and issues,” and methods and tactics for making change. There was also a session in which participants analyzed an issue, assessed its tradeoffs, determined the best approach, and created a persuasive message; as well as a final session that addressed ways to set realistic goals and plan strategically to accomplish them.
- Story by Libby Fackler '13
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