Promoting Civil Discourse in a Polarized World

In 2019, Professors Nicholas Clark, Emma Fleck and Betsy Verhoeven from Susquehanna University were awarded a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Their project Promoting Civil Discourse in a Polarized World was part of the Humanities Connections program. This implementation project brings together the Humanities: Rhetoric and Composition (led by Dr. Verhoeven), Political Science (led by Dr. Clark), and Marketing and Communications (led by Dr. Fleck) to develop courses for students and faculty workshops which promote the pedagogical model of interdisciplinary teaching with a Humanities component.

Bringing The Disciplines Together

As the humanities foundation of this project, rhetoric studies the use of language to create shared identity and to broach communal problems. As such, rhetoric involves both the study and creation of effective language. It also considers the ethics of how language norms include and exclude members of our shared communities. The study of rhetoric is of particular relevance to the health of our political and economic systems in 21st century America. Understanding the power and use of rhetoric helps citizens to gauge the quality and veracity of others’ arguments, thus equipping them for civic engagement with their fellow citizens about the complex and emotionally charged issues of the day.

Political Science focuses on better understanding the political and institutional arena in which such discussion takes place, as well as knowledge about the issues that are the subjects of rhetorical debate. Marketing offers a much greater understanding of the modern infrastructure, particularly online platforms and social media, by which rhetoric is communicated in the modern world. Bringing the three disciplines together allows for a more nuanced understanding of the ethical foundations on which modern politics and language exist, as well as offering practical guidance in the formation of political and economic communication.

Why Susquehanna

As a small liberal arts institution with the mission “Achieve, Lead, Serve,” we are dedicated to bringing academic expertise to issues outside of the academy—in the public sphere and in the business world—and we expect our students to become leaders in both. Engaging them in a project which explores the inter-relationships of rhetoric, politics, and marketing communications equips them to communicate and act ethically, with an eye toward the common good, not just their own personal gain. Our institution’s dedication to these goals is embedded into our Central Curriculum course goals and our experiential learning framework. Consequently, this project will serve to bring this vital area of the Humanities to other disciplines and to the broader public.


Seal of the National Endowment for the Humanities