Heading: Our Story

Shelley E. Padnos and Carol Sarosik

Padnos/Sarosik Civil Discourse Program founders Carol Sarosik and Shelley E. Padnos.

The Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse was founded through the generous gift of Shelley E. Padnos and Carol Sarosik to help create more inclusive, tolerant, and peaceful communities. In 2011, they visited the Anne Frank House, a museum in Amsterdam that tells the very human story of a young Jewish girl living in captivity during the Holocaust. Bearing witness to the accounts of violence and fear documented in Anne Frank’s diary, Shelley and Carol said, “We knew we had to do something.” The cost of intolerance is high. People must find ways to live across difference. It is in this moment that they first conceived of this program.

Committed to promoting equity among people, across multiple identities, Shelley and Carol began brainstorming with the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies about ways to equip students with tools for creating a more tolerant and peaceful world. Civil discourse is one such tool, and the Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse developed from there.

Today’s college students live in a complex, often contentious world. Makau and Marty (2013) describe it as an “argument culture.” To help students learn how to handle the divisiveness of this historical moment, the Center for Civil Discourse provides curricular programming and campus/community events which promote the use of civil discourse. To create caring communities, we need to matter to each other.  Civil discourse is one way we can increase our capacity to hear one another; speak respectfully; and assess the complicated dynamics of dialogue.

The Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse aims to systematically enable Grand Valley State University students and area neighbors to develop the concepts, skills, and practices of bringing people with divergent views together for respectful dialogue and problem-solving through the sponsorship of:

  • A rotating two-year endowed professorship appointment
  • An undergraduate course which examines a current social issue through the tools of civil discourse
  • An annual community symposium that is associated with the theme of the course
  • Campus and community events that provide students, staff, faculty, and community members with opportunities to practice the skills of civil discourse
  • Individualized support for faculty and student leaders who seek guidance around facilitating difficult conversations

Subheading: Professorship

Jack Lessenberry, senior political analyst for Michigan Radio and veteran newspaper journalist, gave the inaugural lecture during the introduction of the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professorship of Civil Discourse on November 20, 2013 at the DeVos Center.

At this inaugural event, the first faculty member to hold the professorship was introduced. Lisa M. Perhamus, assistant professor of education, was selected as the first endowed professor of civil discourse and was presented with a certificate and a custom made medallion. Her two-year term was January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2015. The second Padnos/Sarosik Professor of Civil Discourse was announced on November 19, 2015. Dr. Jack R. Mangala, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Political Science, began his two-year term beginning January 1, 2016. The third professor of civil discourse was Elizabeth Arnold, associate professor of anthropology, began her term on January 1, 2018. Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is the current professor of civil discourse. He began his term on January 1, 2020.