By Derek Andre ’16
For such a small campus, Wabash has more than its fair share of speakers come to campus. No matter the time of year, it seems like there is never a shortage of lectures that students and faculty can enjoy without leaving their own backyard. But that’s not to say that, for me at least, there aren’t a few highlights on the annual calendar of campus events. Some of these leading lectures include the LaFollette Lecture in the fall, the College Democrat’s Thomas A. Marshall Lecture in the spring, and, of course, the annual Brigance Forum hosted by the Rhetoric Department.
The Brigance Forum was founded as a yearly lecture intended to honor the late William Norwood Brigance, a Wabash Professor of Speech for nearly forty years from the early 1920s to 1960. Giving this year’s lecture was Dr. Martín Carcasson, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University. In layman’s terms, Dr. Carcasson’s Center helps to coordinate public forums and deliberations on behalf of local organizations and government entities in and around Fort Collins, Colorado. In the past few years, Dr. Carcasson and his students have hosted public deliberations on a variety of topics including water usage, public education, and a new football stadium for Colorado State.
Dr. Carcasson’s lecture, which was entitled “Changing the Conversation: The Role of Colleges and Universities in Supporting Community Problem-Solving,” centered around the role that colleges can play in supporting democracy not only within their communities, but also within their students. As Dr. Carcasson progressed through his lecture it became clear the optimal way that he feels that colleges can help to promote democracy in their community is to hold public forums and deliberations.
Much of Dr. Carcasson’s rationale behind the usage of deliberation arises from the presence of wicked problems. For those who don’t know, a wicked problem is one which cannot be solved by traditional means but, rather, involves two or more highly regarded values that are in tension with one another. The example that was given by Dr. Carcasson put the values of “freedom” and “security” in competition with one another. Both these values are important to Americans, but we prioritize them in different ways. According to Dr. Carcasson, the way to deal with these problems is to engage the public in deliberative activities. This way, voices that are not typically heard have the opportunity to speak out and make their opinions known.
Toward the end of the talk, Dr. Carcasson explored the various ways that colleges and universities can play this type of role in their communities. The main way that he said colleges can promote democracy within their communities is to host public deliberations and public forms regarding contentious issues that arise from wicked problems. This is a step Wabash has already taken. This past fall, the Rhetoric Department partnered with community organizations to host its first Community Conversation, with student as facilitators, on substance abuse in Montgomery County. It was a resounding success and subsequent meetings have been held in order to continue discuss the matter. (You can read more about the forum and community conversations here: https://sites.google.com/site/mccommunityconversations/)
It truly was a pleasure having Dr. Carcasson on campus to give the annual Brigance Lecture. To have such a leading scholar in the field of rhetoric and deliberation come to Wabash was a great opportunity for students, faculty, and community members.
Photos by Corey Egler ’15