The Campus Conversations program seeks to fulfill three primary objectives.
First and foremost, it is an educational process “whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38) and is consistent with outcomes for developing “empowered, informed, and responsible learners” (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2002, p. xi). In the deliberative process, participants receive balanced information that encompasses a range of perspectives pertaining to a particular issue, thereby encouraging evaluation and synthesis. Moreover, the process promotes skill building through dialogue as participants articulate their own thoughts, respectfully disagree with others, and collaborate in the formulation of questions for experts. It also encourages critical thinking as participants examine their personal perspective, question any underlying assumptions contained therein, and integrate what they have learned through their experience in the deliberative poll.
Additionally, the Campus Conversations program is designed to promote a commitment to civic engagement and social responsibility. Through deliberative polls and other forms of democractic dialogue, participants become active members of a process that not only gives them a voice in decision making but also exposes them to diverse viewpoints. As thoughts are shared and ideas explored, they are engaged in a tangible community building process with other thoughtful and committed individuals. By enabling participants to deconstruct a complex issue and embrace the nuances therein through reflection and dialogue, they not only come to a more thorough understanding of the particular issue in question but also acquire an appreciation of democratic practice and explore the relationship of self to others through shared citizenship within a community. It is a process that actively engages participants and reflects the notion that “in a strong democracy, politics is something done by, not to, citizens” (Barber, 2004, p. 133).
The final objective of the Campus Conversations program is to encourage substantive interaction among individuals and groups who traditionally do not interact in the context of daily life within the community. Random sampling coupled with recruitment through convenience sampling are designed to ensure representation from throughout the campus community. It also ensures intellectual diversity as the composition of the random sample is designed to elicit representation from each of the university’s colleges. At Carnegie Mellon, this is a particularly valuable aspect of deliberative polling and other forms of democratic dialogue as the university places a high premium on interdisciplinary collaboration. Moreover, the deliberative process also ensures that individuals who report a wide spectrum of political affiliations have their respective voices heard, thereby mitigating the ability of technology to allow citizens to intentionally and systematically avoid exposure to alternative opinions via personalized news and weblogs (Susstein, 2007).
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2002). Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Barber, B.R. (2004). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. (20th anniversary edition). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Susstein, C.R. (2007). Republic.com 2.0. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.