April 12, 2019

Three Susquehanna University professors have been awarded an $83,820 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a joint project meant to encourage civil discourse.

Betsy Verhoeven, associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of English and creative writing, is director of the project, titled Promoting Civil Discourse in a Polarizing World. It is a two-year curriculum development project that will create two interdisciplinary courses integrating rhetoric, political science and marketing. Additionally, Susquehanna faculty will conduct workshops for faculty from other universities to help them build their own interdisciplinary projects that address citizenship skills.

“We know we live in divided times, where people tend to be more isolated from those who have opposing worldviews,” Verhoeven said. “Our project will engage students and faculty in projects that allow them to build and practice meaningful dialogue despite political and social differences. These projects will have an outreach component designed to promote civil dialogue in the broader community.”

Co-directors of the project are Nicholas Clark, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, and Emma Fleck, associate professor of management in the Sigmund Weis School of Business.

The project’s three core subject areas — rhetoric, political science and marketing — were chosen because:

  • Rhetoric engages students in the study of making better arguments to help them gauge the quality and veracity of others’ arguments.
  • Political science helps us understand aspects of partisanship and ideological polarization that are currently driving people apart and how to overcome them.
  • Marketing allows us to gain a greater understanding of rhetoric within the modern infrastructure, particularly online platforms and social media, by which rhetoric is communicated in the modern world.

Susquehanna’s grant was awarded through the NEH’s Humanities Connections program, aimed at expanding the role of the humanities in undergraduate education. Awards support innovative curricular approaches that foster productive partnerships among humanities faculty and their counterparts in the social and natural sciences and in pre-service or professional programs.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.


—Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.