Public Discourse

COM 120

Public Discourse is a nationally recognized and awarded course created by the Communication Studies faculty at Gustavus. The course provides rigorous training in research, critical thinking, problem solving, writing, and oral communication—the core skills of a liberal arts education.
In September 2022, Public Discourse will celebrate its 15th anniversary. These fifteen years of teaching civic engagement and public advocacy continue to serve as the foundation for a Communication Studies curriculum that equips students to act on the great challenges of our time.

Course Description

Public Discourse introduces students to the principles of public advocacy, community-based research, and civic engagement. Students gain knowledge, enhance and hone skills, and thoughtfully consider their place in their communities. Readings, class time, and assignments focus on the skills and concepts necessary for successful application of rhetorical and argument theory to a community-based public advocacy project.
View the course syllabus here

Student Learning Outcomes

Public Discourse teaches students to:
  1. Effectively create and present oral, written, and mediated communication. Effective communication is contextual and contributes to deliberative discourse by identifying issues, adapting to audiences, marshaling arguments and evidence, and employing appropriate presentation standards.
  2. Find and utilize relevant and reliable library and community-based evidence.
  3. Ethically engage in research, interactions with community members, and in presentations according to project guidelines: Community-based (local, collaborative, sustainable, appropriate), Deliberative (evidence-based), and Ethical (reflexive).
  4. Effectively engage in opportunities for positive social change.
  5. Articulate a plan for continued skill and content development based on accurate assessment of strengths and areas for growth.
Over the past decade, we have continually assessed and tracked student learning outcomes. See some of our research and assessment.

The Public Advocacy ProjectWord cloud.

Students actively and meaningfully engage with a community on a community problem. In completing the project, each student identifies a problem in the community, thoroughly researches that problem, determines the best plan for addressing the problem, and presents the plan to agents of change in their community. In order to ethically advocate in their communities, students complete a series of sequenced assignments focused on developing the research, audience analysis, and skills necessary for success.
View sample Public Advocacy Projects here.

Public Discourse Text

Students use a dedicated Public Discourse text to learn rhetorical, argument, and public advocacy theory and to guide them in developing a successful project. Chapter readings and targeted sequenced exercises provide the foundational building blocks for major assignments and for the overall project.

What do students say about the Public Discourse experience?

"I have indubitably grown as a student, a community member, and a member of the human race from my experience with my Public Discourse project. I have gained insights about persuasion and advocacy, gained skill in persuasion and connecting to community members, and gained a better sense of what it means to be an ethical member of my community. I intend to continue to develop the skills I have discovered through my project throughout my years at Gustavus and in my future career." - Spring '22 student

"Before this class I did not think it was possible to be able to address a problem in my community and that you had to be a person of authority to address community problems, but I realize now that is not true at all. Through public advocacy, civic engagement, and leadership, problems can be addressed in communities and be changed for the better." - Spring '22 student

"I am happy that I got to take this class because it helped me grow so much as a person. I learned how to advocate for an issue in my community and gained a lot of research knowledge that can help me address more issues in the future. This class helped me to know how to go about it and what to do to overcome challenges. I also created relationships with people that I wouldn’t have thought I would have because of this class. I learned to listen to others and respect their opinions. " - Spring '22 student