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Grant supports classroom forums focused on deliberation

By Rachel Palermo '15
October 30, 2012

Assistant Professor of Sociology Ibtesam Al-Atiyat will use a grant from the Kettering Foundation for Deliberative Democracy to test whether adding deliberative forums to her classes improves students' potential civic engagement, individual leadership skills, academic proficiency, and group decision-making.

"Deliberative forums seek building consensus, finding common ground, and thinking collectively about finding a real solution that everyone, in spite of their position, can live with," Al-Atiyat says. Using these forums in her classroom will allow her to prove the extent of the benefits that stem from these forums.

In Al-Atiyat's Arab World course, students will run forums examining the issues of Islamophobia and freedom of speech in the U.S., and they will also deliberate the role of the U.S. in the Arab Spring. In her Women's and Gender Studies course, Al-Atiyat will engage deliberative learning and teaching techniques regarding the subjects of same-sex marriage, abortion, and interventions to protect women’s rights worldwide.

Al-Atiyat explains that the act of deliberation is a form of grassroots democracy. "By using this learning technique, students will come to the realization that as citizens they have a responsibility to make choices about how to solve problems, simply because government alone cannot solve them all," she says.

The students in Al-Atiyat's classes will learn how to produce issue booklets, which the Kettering Foundation may sponsor publication of at the end of the semester. Following the course, Al-Atiyat will analyze the usefulness of the deliberative class activities and will submit a paper documenting her teaching experience to be published by the Kettering Foundation in 2013.

Creating and moderating public and deliberative forums adds to the skill set that students are already exposed to at St. Olaf. "Such deliberative forums enrich students' thinking on public issues and give them a way to act on them," Al-Atiyat says.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or