The College Debates and Discourse Program, an alliance between Braver Angels, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), and BridgeUSA, has been awarded a $1.26 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). The award — funded by Templeton Grant 62358 — will support a two-year research project, beginning in January 2023, that will evaluate the effects of Braver Angels debates on students at 10 colleges and universities across the U.S.
Background: Since its inception in 2018, the College Debates and Discourse (CD&D) program has launched more than 100 campus and classroom debates — in person and online — engaging nearly 5,000 students from well over 50 colleges and universities across the United States. Braver Angels debates give students a transformative experience highlighted by deep listening, critical thinking and thoughtful communication. As they engage with their peers in a guided setting, students voice and listen to opinions on polarizing topics, and come away with profound appreciation for viewpoint diversity. The program is co-directed by April Lawson, Managing Director of Debates and Discourse at Braver Angels, and Doug Sprei, Vice President of Campus Partnerships and Multimedia at ACTA.
Dr. Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication and Associate Director of the Center for Political Communication at the University of Delaware, will serve as principal investigator for the JTF research project. She will be supported by graduate assistants at UD, and work with the CD&D team to implement the research. Peter C. Hill, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in La Mirada, CA, will serve as a research advisor.
This grant will enable Dr. Hoffman and the team to evaluate the unique impact of Braver Angels debates, which give students the tools to engage in fruitful disagreement, exhibit calm and confidence when discord arises, form friendships across ideological boundaries, and learn to be effective leaders. Her novel research design will examine the micro-level impact on students engaged in the program, as well as students’ ability to coalesce into campus “Communities of Practice”—cohesive working groups that consistently practice debating and civil discourse, and forge a sustainable succession path for incoming students.
Ten institutions will work with Professor Hoffman and the CD&D team to participate in the research project. Over the course of two years, the CD&D program will launch Braver Angels campus and classroom debates each semester, engaging students at each of the institutions, which include:
- Arizona State University
- University of Baltimore
- Biola University
- University of Delaware
- Denison University
- University of Denver
- Duke University
- Linn-Benton Community College
- Texas A&M – Corpus Christi
- Virginia Military Institute
In total, these institutions represent a diverse cohort of American colleges and Universities (e.g., public, private, large, small, minority serving, politically liberal or conservative). Many of them have been strong participants in the College Debates and Discourse program over the past few years.
At each institution, a designated faculty member will serve as an on-campus program ambassador, providing local leadership and sponsorship of events; and each will receive a yearly Fellowship funded by the Templeton grant. The cohort of faculty Fellows will be led by Mark Urista, Instructor at Linn-Benton Community College in Oregon, who has served as lead faculty advisor for the CD&D program since 2020.
Additionally, the faculty Fellows will partner with two student leaders on campus who will receive a yearly Fellowship funded by the grant. These student Fellows will be supported by the BridgeUSA Chapter Development Program—led by Bridge’s Chief Operating Officer, Ross Irwin—providing best practices for student community building, and guidance toward fulfilling grant deliverables. BridgeUSA’s chapter network will also enable the leaders to create social and career-oriented connections with students across the country.
About the College Debates and Discourse alliance partners
Braver Angels (formerly Better Angels) is a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to helping America overcome political polarization. Our programming works to ensure equal representation of “reds” and “blues,” and to help Americans engage with those on the other side of the aisle. We aim to positively impact American community life and institutions, using grassroots organizing to support local volunteers. Our approach is guided by the Braver Angels Pledge:
- As individuals, we try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
- In our communities, we engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
- In politics, we support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.
BridgeUSA is a youth-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates spaces on college and high school campuses for open discussion between students about political issues. Political division is one of our biggest challenges in the United States. Today’s youth are being taught that tribalism is better than unity and that having conversations across our differences is impossible. Spoiler Alert: This isn’t true! BridgeUSA began in 2016 at the Universities of Notre Dame, CU-Boulder, and UC Berkeley in response to growing polarization on campus. Our work emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding, ideological diversity and solution-oriented politics. By engaging America’s youth in constructive discussions, we are equipping the next generation of leaders with the skills necessary for navigating conflict, finding solutions across differences and building bridges in their communities. We are currently located on 51 college campuses and 24 high school campuses in the U.S.
ACTA – The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Gabby Anglin (ACTA), Ciaran O’Connor (BA)
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com