Heading: Undergraduate Courses

Courses aim to strengthen students’ civil discourse skills through the study of contentious social issues from a variety of perspectives. The courses support students’ growth to become civically-engaged, fair-minded leaders in the community who practice and model civil discourse. For more detailed information about our course offerings, please contact the Center at [email protected].


IDS 150 (1 credit)

Dialogue Across Difference

Professor Lisa M. Perhamus, PhD

Offered Fall 2024 and Winter 2025

This introductory course will consider a variety of social issue topics as it examines how to have difficult conversations with people whose perspective differs from one’s own. Using the tools and concepts of civil discourse, this conversational course will provide students with the knowledge-base and skill-set to navigate the current climate of polarization and divisiveness, with a particular emphasis on the role of dialogue in fostering caring relationships, building sustainable communities, and envisioning inclusive futures where people with all different worldviews are heard and understood.

Two hands reaching for each other to symbolize the connection civil discourse provides despite disagreements

IDS 350 (3 credits)

Building Bridges Through Conversation

Professor Greg Warsen, PhD

Offered Fall 2024 

How can you have a conversation with someone with whom you disagree? What skills and strategies could help you navigate difficult conversations at home, at work, or in your other classes? And how is the current state of polarization in the U.S. impacting how people talk and listen to one another? 

This course examines theories and practices of conversation for the common good with a special emphasis on civil discourse as a life skill. Students will explore how conversations of civil discourse can help them understand different perspectives and create stronger communities. Students will practice the skills that will deepen their capacity to be culturally respectful and civically engaged global citizens. Conversation novices and developing leaders alike will learn valuable dialogue tools.

  • Fulfills Gen Ed Issues/Identity Requirement; Elective for ENS, Human Rights, and Leadership Certificate Program
Image of two people in conversation with speech bubbles above them to symbolize the use of civil discourse

Past Classes

Professor Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

This course was a seminar designed to address current issues in journalism and global civil discourse. It started with a discussion of what civil discourse meant and how we could apply it in class. The exploration continued by looking at the consequences for civil discourse because of the conflict between journalists who are trying to share accurate information and those governments, individuals, and organizations who are working to misinform the public.

The beginning of the course focused largely on how these issues play out in the United States, with special attention given to key and divisive topics in our country. Examples of these topics included the current reckoning with racial injustice, the COVID-19 vaccine, gun control, and others. At the same time, we also saw how this dynamic exists in other countries throughout the world. We further developed the Global Civil Discourse map that the 2021 Civil Discourse class created with a group of Computer Science students. By the end of the course, students were more engaged and critical news consumers with a broader, more informed perspective on journalism and civil discourse on local, national, and international levels.

Professor Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

The 2020-2021 Civil Discourse class at GVSU focused on journalism and global civil discourse. This was a seminar course designed to examine the tensions that have arose from the international assault on civil discourse, truth and democracy that has happened around the world, as well as identify how journalists and others have operated in their efforts to contribute accurate information to public understanding. Students studied the consistent methods of attacking and discrediting unfavorable information through the use of the rhetoric of fake news, attacking the journalists and the outlets that produce them, the efforts to control the information to which people have access, and the use of social media and information networks to spread viral misinformation. At the same time, they also looked into the work of those people, organizations and news outlets engaged in countering these trends. This part of the course included investigating the developing global fact checking network, the social media strategies they are using, and their efforts to automate some of the counter information. It also involved hearing from journalists who lived and worked in countries with difficult press environments who were members of the global water investigation that Professor Lowenstein lead. By the end of the semester, students were able to be more engaged and critical news consumers with a broader, more informed perspective on these issues and its consequences for our world. They also were able to understand and engage in civil discourse around these and other thorny issues.

Professor Elizabeth Arnold

A civil discourse on climate change could not be timelier in America. President Trump and his administration are pulling out of the international Paris climate agreement, severely cutting funding to clean energy programs and climate change initiatives and appointing non-scientists into key governmental positions. These actions of our government have increased skepticism, ignorance and confusion among the public on the topic and have increased the partisan divide on climate change. These actions stand in direct opposition to the broad scientific consensus that climate change is real and man-made, and affecting communities in every part of the country. The focus this semester within the larger topic of climate change will be water resources.

Professor Jack Mangala

This course takes an interdisciplinary and grassroots approach to the study of immigration. Students are challenged to think critically about the processes and issues driving international migration (globalization, poverty, conflicts, human rights and the environment) as well as its impact on sending and host countries and communities.

A core emphasis of the course, and an area of experiential learning for students, will be on grassroots initiatives and local efforts aimed at building welcoming cities and communities for immigrants and refugees. The overarching objective of the course is to enable students to develop the skills and intellectual assets needed to engage in civil discourse on the defining issue of immigration.

This class is now offered Fall semesters as GSI/PLS 215: Global Migration.

Professor Lisa Perhamus

This course studies community revitalization efforts in the city of Detroit. Focusing on community-based initiatives that are strengthening neighborhoods, improving schools and fostering the well-being of children, families, and neighborhoods in Detroit, this course invites students with diverse perspectives, from across content areas. The class includes two visits to Detroit.  

This class is now offered Fall semesters as IDS/EDF 325: Learning from Detroit.



Page last modified February 20, 2024