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Town versus Gown? Not Here (Connections 2015)

The two-page article, “Town versus Gown? Not Here” by Sara A. Mehltretter Drury was published Fall 2015 in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research. The article shares the development of the Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse (WDPD) at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The program evolved from being faculty led to the co-created process between students, teachers and the community; and has been influential in the exploration of finding innovative ways to address community issues. Read an excerpt of the article below and find Connections 2015 available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

KF_Connections 2015From the article…

In January 2013, Wabash College started participating in research exchanges at Kettering with a cohort of centers for public life. Wabash College is a small, liberal arts institution with less than 1,000 students located in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a rural county of approximately 38,000 people. Our development over the last three years has been encouraging and energizing—both in the community and on campus. Wabash College is now the site for an interdisciplinary initiative, Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse (WDPD), and our work advances the kinds of communication that cultivate democracy—deliberation, dialogue, advocacy, and debate. The initiative has grown from a faculty-led process to a collaborative partnership with faculty, students, and community members.

We have worked with community partners to hold a number of public deliberation events. For our first project, we tackled a challenging but important issue: substance abuse. Recognizing the importance of community knowledge, we set up interviews to learn more about the concerns of local people, and at the same time, looked for state and national data to contextualize some of these local experiences. We also interviewed community leaders—a local counselor, the coordinator of the Prescription Drug Task Force, a probation officer, and an executive director of a nonprofit organization that works with youth in the community.

More than 100 community members participated in the forums on substance abuse in November 2013. As they worked through three possible approaches to addressing substance abuse, we found that nearly every small-group table had at least one person who was personally affected by the problem. The conversation moved beyond typical positions and pushed our community toward finding innovative solutions. In a few follow-up meetings, participants reviewed and prioritized potential actions, but acknowledged the challenge of comprehensive changes. Still, we were encouraged to learn that several months later, a local organization working on substance abuse issues used the priorities identified in the forums as a starting point for developing a strategic plan.

An important part of this work has been involving undergraduate students from Wabash College. The transition from a faculty-led initiative began in spring 2014, when Wabash College began developing a strategic, interdisciplinary initiative that focused on equipping undergraduate students to stimulate productive conversations in communities to address problems—what would become WDPD. In WDPD, students work with partners on and off campus to facilitate deliberation, dialogue, and advocacy work. One of the most exciting benefits for our campus has been an increase in student-driven conversations on challenging issues. Students in WDPD work with faculty and staff across the college to develop discussion guides for courses and then facilitate forums on issues such as energy, climate change, and mental health.

WDPD also continues to work with our local community. Experienced students take leading roles in researching, planning, facilitating, and reporting on public deliberation events. In the spring of 2014, we turned to our local partners to find out what issues they felt needed public discussion. Crawfordsville mayor Todd Barton and the local economic development organization both suggested that community participation was needed to prioritize quality-of-life improvements in the county. We applied for and received a grant from Indiana Humanities to research and facilitate a public conversation on “The Next Montgomery County: A Community Conversation on Quality of Place.”

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2015 issue, edited by Kettering program officer Melinda Gilmore and director of communications David Holwerk, focuses on our yearlong review of Kettering’s research over time.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Drury_2015.pdf

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