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The Big Question and Academic Citizenship

The purpose of the Big Question Project is to encourage the campus community to practice skills related to civil discourse and public reasoning by coordinating public conversations around a broad interdisciplinary theme each academic year. By linking these opportunities to an annual central theme, we hope that members of the BC community will recognize these public conversations as part of a single civil discourse project, one that is presented as an integral part of liberal arts education at Bridgewater. The Big Question provides opportunities for discussions that might not otherwise take place, encouraging members of the campus community to engage each other in intellectual and civil discourse, and builds a denser network of campus connections. Aside from encouraging the exploration of the year’s theme in numerous, creative and insightful ways, the Big Question also intensifies Bridgewater’s sense of community. Faculty, staff and students all work toward a deeper, more complex understanding of an issue, and that creates a more collaborative atmosphere. As faculty and staff members passionately explore issues they care about, they model methods that have served them well as academics and as mature citizens of a democracy.

Program Goals:

  • Encourage students to practice responsibly interacting with people and texts (e.g. listening respectfully to persons with different values and experiences, demonstrating attitudes of openness and mutual respect in the midst of disagreement, and seeking clarification).
  • Encourage students to practice perspective-taking (e.g. articulating multiple viewpoints, gathering evidence and clarifying perspectives).
  • Encourage students to practice public reasoning (e.g. using public dialogue to gather and interrogate evidence, identifying unstated assumptions, weighing competing viewpoints and making decisions).
  • Encourage students to use self-authorship (e.g. cultivating a unique voice, use that voice to articulate well-supported arguments, and reassess and adjust arguments in light of the viewpoints of others).