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College of Communication & Education

The Chico Great Debate Provides Students Opportunities for Meaningful Civic Engagement

The theme of this year’s Chico Great Debate is “Engaging in our Democracy.” In Barack Obama’s first State of the Union Address, he stated, “For our democracy to work, we need people to work together to solve problems and address social issues. We can’t all be shouting at each other, calling each other names, and refusing to cooperate with those with whom we have disagreements.”

The Chico Great Debate was designed to provide opportunities for individuals across the political spectrum to come together to discuss issues in an informed, civil, and productive way. The event has grown by the number of student participants and an expanded collaboration between the City of Chico, California State University, Chico, and Butte College.  

Students across communication studies courses are asked to study a potentially controversial topic, synthesize the information that they learn, and then present their findings in a variety of formats. During the Chico Great Debate, students deliver speeches and presentations, participate in informative and interactive dialogues about important civic issues, and engage in civil debates and conversations throughout the day.  

One event included in the schedule is the Civic Expo. The Civic Expo is an opportunity for students to showcase their research through visual and interactive forums for Expo attendees. Tables are set up under a large tent and posters are displayed to encourage conversation. Expo students describe their research and ask attendees to vote for or against a controversial topic. In one example, attendees were asked if they were for or against felons having the right to vote after incarceration—convicted felons’ rights vary by state. In another example, attendees were asked if they felt comfortable with everyday citizens having the right to carry or conceal a gun in public—several states allow it, but not California.

“The posters are created by CMST 132 small group communication students. This general education course allows students across the University to participate,” said communication studies lecturer Angela Ohland. “They are asked to give a presentation in class on their research and then put together an informative and interactive poster board to share at the Chico Great Debate event to teach other students and community members about their material.”

Following the day’s events, the evening progresses with advanced student debates and a “main event” in which community stakeholders debate each other. Community stakeholders often work with communication studies faculty and students who coach them in the best practices for civil debate.

The event is held in both spring and fall semesters and is free and open to the public. College of Communication and Education Dean Angela Trethewey is very proud of the faculty and students’ participation in this important event.

“It reflects our college’s commitment to effective communication, civic engagement, and community building, as well as our abiding interest in preparing students to be leaders, advocates, and change agents in their own communities,” said Trethewey.

poster board and students voting
Students vote whether to allow
felons to vote after incarceration. 


poster board for student voting
Students vote and answer questions
about conceal/carry laws.