Capacity Building Around Civil Discourse at UTSA

As educators, we are committed to nurturing within UTSA students the capacity for robust and constructive civil discourse. Through various academic programs, the university empowers students to navigate complex discussions and challenging issues. By fostering an ethos of mutual respect and intellectual curiosity, we champion the ideals of free speech while also fostering the development of a new generation of informed and engaged citizens.

Efforts in this area are centered around five key focus areas:

  • Providing capacity-building opportunities for both students and faculty, encompassing workshops, courses, and global initiatives
  • Strengthening and amplifying existing initiatives within our university community
  • Collaborating closely with students and campus offices to ensure ongoing and impactful efforts.
  • Pursuing external grants to support long-term and sustainable endeavors
  • Extending efforts into the wider San Antonio community by developing interuniversity initiatives and community partnerships 

Select Activities in 2024

Workshops and Experiential Learning

Faculty Capacity Building Workshop - Conversation and Connection in a Divided Country: How to Foster Respectful Discourse in the Classroom (February 2024)

Universities are essential spaces for debate, discussion and action by students and scholars to address pressing global and humanitarian concerns. UTSA brings together diverse groups of students with a range of life experiences, identities, and viewpoints. Yet, our deeply polarized political climate can make it challenging for faculty to foster constructive conversations on current events and divisive topics. UTSA faculty members Sara DeTurk (Communication) and Gina Amatangelo (Public Administration) lead this interactive workshop on the use of “structured dialogue” in the classroom. UTSA’s Chief Legal Officer, Jason King, was available to address questions on issues such as free speech on campus, compliance with SB 17, and other issues.

Student Capacity Building - COLFA Dialogue Initiative

Led by Department of Communication faculty members Sara DeTurk and Laurie Lewis, this initiative has trained over 50 UTSA students to serve as dialogue facilitators, including Top Scholars, Terry Scholars, RowdyCorps members and other interested students. The project currently has 11 students committed as Dialogue Associates who will help to lead campus and community dialogues. The initiative hosted a  Democracy Dialogue Event on March 26 and will host two in the fall in the leadup to the Presidential Election.

Student Capacity Building - Summer Experiential Learning Global Opportunity

In Summer 2024, the UTSA President’s Office and the Honors College are partnering with Rotary San Antonio to send three students, fully paid, to the Peace & Reconciliation Centre in Corrymeela, Northern Ireland, for a 10-day intensive, immersive training in conflict resolution. Students will come from across the globe to participate.

Student Capacity Building – Roadrunner Days Workshops (Fall 2024)

The Honors College, in partnership with UTSA Student Affairs, will hold two workshops during Roadrunner Days at the start of the fall 2024 semester. “How to Have Difficult Conversations” will be led by UTSA faculty member Gina Amatangelo, and “Free Speech and Navigating Campus Protests” will be led by UTSA Chief Legal Officer Jason King, Senior Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students LT Robinson, and Director of Student Development and Social Connections Brandi Scott.

Student and Faculty Capacity Building – Resilience and Mental Wellbeing (June 2024)

The Honors College partnered with Dr. Lauren Gulbas from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work to teach the “Resiliency in the Classroom” curriculum. The workshop was open to both faculty and student leaders and focused on the importance of resilience when having difficult conversations. The UTSA Academic Innovation division plans to extend this training to additional faculty in the future.


Spring 2024: 

HON 3601: Learning to Lead. (Partnership: Honors and HCAP, open to all students)

Students are guided through developing leadership philosophies through in-depth discussions with city leaders and engagement with Nelson Wolff’s 2024 book,  95 Power Principles. Guest speakers offer their perspectives on leading with diverse teams with different points of view. At the end of the semester, students present their leadership philosophies to a group of UTSA alums and civic and philanthropic leaders. This course is developed through a partnership of Honors College and the College for Health, Community and Policy and is open to all UTSA students.

Fall 2024: 

HON 3601: Leading through Crisis

Students are guided through a hands-on exploration of what it means to lead through crisis. The course text,  The Mayor and the Judge, by Nelson Wolff explores leading the seventh largest city during Covid. Guest speakers will be from across the university and the city, including Judge Wolff, telling their stories of leading through crisis. Students will produce their own evidence-based approach to leading through crisis. This course is developed through a partnership of Honors College and the College for Health, Community and Policy and is open to all UTSA students.

PAD 2073: Engaging in a Divided World – Foundations of Civic Engagement

As residents battle over library books, election results, and racial equity it often feels as though our civic life in the U.S. has devolved into a shouting match. How has this social discord impacted our ability to respond to crises and solve problems? The class will compare civic engagement in our community with those in other countries. Students explore our role as citizens in a democracy, observe how local residents advocate on policy issues, and complete a local service project. During the second half of the semester students will participate in a virtual international exchange program that convenes small groups of students from around the world to share perspectives on global issues and develop skills in communication and conflict resolution. Students collaborate on a series of short video interviews featuring local community members. 

COM 4413: Dialogue Facilitation

In our increasingly polarized society, it is important to be able to engage in constructive dialogue with people whose views differ from our own. Dialogue—defined as “a sincere and mutual exchange involving inquiry, reflection, and responsiveness”—is an essential skill, and one that often requires expert facilitation. This course will prepare students to facilitate dialogue to engage diverse perspectives in interpersonal, organizational, and civic contexts. It will help you to communicate effectively in your relationships, collaborate successfully in the workplace, and engage in participatory democracy—and will help you to help others do the same. This will be a service-learning course with opportunities for hands-on facilitation experience both on and off campus. Successful students will earn a Collaborative Discussion Coach badge through the Interactivity Foundation.

In Development

  • UTSA Honors College has submitted a $500,000 grant proposal, University and Community Capacity Building, which would focus on strengthening practices in deliberative democracy, engaging meaningfully across difference, and collaborative problem solving. The Honors College and the Dialogue and Deliberation Initiative will lead a series of capacity building programs that connect students, faculty and grassroots community leaders to explore how to work together on our community’s most pressing problems in spite of cultural, ideological, and other divides.

  • Create a roadmap for a campus-wide initiative to build capacity of UTSA students to engage in civil discourse (focus on scalability and sustainability); this project focuses on identifying and highlighting existing classes that build these skills.

  • Build UTSA faculty capacity on fostering civil discourse in the classroom by holding additional workshops, creating resources (such as curriculum guides) and developing a cohort model through which faculty receive training and commit to a signature project on campus. 

  • UTSA is leading an interuniversity initiative for community capacity building, collaborating with other universities and partners across the city including the Rotary Club of San Antonio and the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Know Your Neighbor program.