Professor to lead Democracy 101 event on civil discourse

Drew Schertzer

It may be difficult for some people to see someone else’s point of view in a discussion, and this inability can make people feel a range of emotions, from anger to confusion. According to Lisa Perhamus, an associate professor at Grand Valley State University, if two sides “agree to disagree,” then a “stressing point” has been reached. Perhamus is seeking to break down the argumentative approach to discussions, which lead to stressing points. 

Perhamus has a planned list of civil discourse skills that she will teach at the event “Disentangling From the U.S.’ Argument Culture: Keeping It Real About the ‘Sticking Points.’” This will be a discussion Wednesday, Feb. 14, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Room 2266.

“If no one changes their mind or opinion in a conversation, it is usually a conversation stopper,” Perhamus said. “We instead need to talk about it and challenge it.”

Perhamus talked about the possibilities of going past stopping points. She believes that civil discourse is the cure to halted conversations fueled by an argumentative nature. 

“What if we learn how to stay at the table and keep the conversation going?” she said. “Each person isn’t going to change, but if they can keep having conversations, it changes to learning more about why we think what we feel and why they think what they feel.

“If we get to that kind of work, it’s much easier to honor where the other person is coming from.” 

Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life for civic engagement and assessment, shares a similar thought process with Perhamus about learning from a different perspective. 

“By starting from a place of attempting to seek understanding of another’s position, you open a door to doing just that,” Baker-Boosamra said. 

Baker-Boosamra said that civil discourse is fundamental to the health and vibrancy of GVSU’s campus. By listening to one another and understanding your own actions, you can see from the same place that others do. Baker-Boosamra believes this is the key for good discussion. 

Perhamus said there are three steps to handling sticking points that are concrete strategies. She said students will arrive at the event, and she will have a conversation in the room with them all. Perhamus will share information about how to combat these sticking points and how to further civil discourse.

Some basic civil discourse skills include listening more than you speak and remembering that everyone has something to teach you and everyone has a right to be understood, Perhamus said. She hopes that students will learn from the event and as a result have better conversations with people who have different opinions than their own in the future.

Democracy 101 is a series of talks and discussions about modern-day issues. They are led by a variety of speakers several times a month. For more information, or to learn about future Democracy 101 events, visit