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D&D Story: Renee Heath of the University of Portland

We asked brand new NCDD member Renee Heath of the University of Portland if she’d be open to sharing her “D&D story” with the NCDD community. Here is what she had to say…

Universities Can Help Build a More Civil Community

After teaching collaborative leadership courses at the University of Portland for several years, I reflected on how our students, who were trained in conflict negotiation, dialogue, and consensus decision-making, could benefit from another venue in which to practice these skills. Indeed, speech and debate teams have been around forever, but what forum could we create for students practicing other important oral skills? Around the same time, our country experienced some of the most polarizing and vitriolic town hall meetings leading up to the vote on health care reform. When a local congressman proposed canceling his town hall meetings, I thought, “No, there is a better way!”

Indeed, my research had led me to the AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meeting model. I knew our trained students could serve and volunteer in the community by facilitating thoughtful civil discourse, thus, the forum was created. Last year, The University of Portland launched TOLCS (Teaching Our Leaders Civil Discourse & Service), with the help of guest presenter Carolyn Lukensmeyer, founder of AmericaSpeaks. The goal of TOLCS is to a) provide extracurricular training to our students who b) apply their skills and knowledge by volunteering in the community.

In just one year, TOLCS now boasts 70 members including faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and university alumni. We have led dialogic deliberations on the topics of energy, food justice and will soon be hosting a health care forum. Our model has attracted the attention of other universities as far away as West Virginia. I found NCDD through my research on collaboration and dialogue. It just makes sense that we are members as we share the same dreams for civil discourse and community. For more information about TOLCS, visit this site.


Renee Guarriello Heath, Ph.D. has studied power and decision-making in community stakeholder groups since 1997. Her work on community collaboration has been published in major communication journals and annuals including the Journal of Applied Communication Research, Management Communication Quarterly, and Communication Yearbook. A recent study of dialogue, voice and participation in policy setting, was a top paper in the Organizational Division of Western States Communication annual meeting presented in Alaska in March, 2010. She consults and trains diverse groups seeking collaborative and dialogic skills. She was awarded the highest teaching award given to faculty at the University of Portland in 2011, and was honored for her service to women in higher education as the 2011 award recipient of “She Flies with Her Own Wings,” sponsored by Oregon Women in Higher Education.

NCDD Community
This post was submitted by a member of the NCDD community. NCDD members are leaders and future leaders in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and community problem solving. You, too, can post to the NCDD blog by completing the Add-to-Blog form at www.ncdd.org/submit.

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