My Davidson | A Student Blog A Welcoming of Deliberative Disagreement: Spotlight on Davidson College’s DCI

a group of men and women standing together and smiling in a classroom

Last April, the DCI hosted a screening of Chosen, a documentary following five Korean Americans of diverse backgrounds and political views as they run for congress, in tandem with one of the DCI's "Deliberative Dinners." Director Joseph Juhn joined (pictured center of group). 

Davidson College students Daniel Lee '26 and Divin Dushimimana '26 reflect on their work with the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative and the happiness that comes from genuine conversations and thoughtful exchanges of ideas.

About the Authors

Divin Dushimimana ’26 (he/him/his) is an intended Public Health and Economics double major from Kigali, Rwanda

Daniel Lee ’26 (he/him) is a Political Science and French and Francophone Studies double major from Ames, Iowa. On campus, he is involved with Strategic Planning, Dog-Eared Books, SIAD, and the Men’s Club Soccer team.

Dushimimana: What is the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative?

The Deliberative Citizenship Initiative (DCI) fellowship is a one-year program designed to provide Davidson students with opportunities to engage in dialogue about some of our society’s most challenging issues. 

In the fall, every DCI Fellow is trained as a facilitator and participates in weekly discussions on contentious topics so as to enhance their deliberative skills. In the spring, we conduct deliberative team meetings, providing an opportunity for fellows to put their facilitation skills to use. I’ve been a facilitator for deliberation teams discussing issues ranging from election fairness in the United States to who should pay for climate change damages. 

In addition, DCI Fellows have the opportunity to harness their project management skills and hone in on a topic of interest. For my individual project, I engaged with students on my residence hall floor to discuss issues related to mental health and homesickness in their first year. 

In retrospect, DCI has ignited in me a welcoming of deliberative disagreement. As someone who participated in competitive debate in high school, learning to value good argument so as to find common ground on a variety of topics was challenging. Debates could get so heated that it created a “you vs. me” mentality.

There are topics which I held strong conservative convictions for and that was it; case closed. However, after spending a year as a DCI member, the fellowship has instilled elements of intellectual empathy and open-mindedness I now approach every argument with an explorer mindset, looking at it as an opportunity to learn. I now acknowledge that some of our strongest convictions might arise as a result of our upbringings or culture. Consequently, as I grow, I still refer back to some of the DCI concepts to learn and unlearn a few things in life.

Lee: Why Does the DCI Matter?

Happiness is a timeless virtue that colors the human condition. It is powerful, bringing light into the darkness and hope to the meek. Our fondest memories are often accompanied by this emotion, which comes back alive in reminiscence and nostalgia. And perhaps it is the presence of happiness itself—whether large or small—that allows us to march on past the burdens of a broken world.

There are, arguably, two distinct forms of happiness: private and public. Private happiness is found within the comfort of one’s privacy, without interaction with other individuals. For example, one might achieve private happiness through the independent indulgence of food, entertainment, or physical activity. The duration of happiness created out of these activities tends to be short and temporary, leaving individuals unsatisfied in the aftermath.

Public happiness, on the other hand, is found exclusively by interacting with other individuals. The etymology of “happiness” is critical in understanding this phenomenon. The word originates from happ (Old Norse for chance or luck) and -ness (the state of being). Together, it signifies the state of being encompassed by chance and luck. So how does this apply to the creation of public happiness, and how does one go about bringing it to life?

For me, the answer to that question can be found in the art of public discourse and deliberation. When individuals gather to hold a genuine conversation, void of preconceived scripts or narratives, the potential and possibility of the conversation are limitless, led by the force of spontaneity and chance. The contribution of one individual’s ideas will prompt others to react and contribute their own thoughts by chance, leading to the creation of something new. More often than not, this creation of something new is the birth of public happiness, brought forth into existence out of meaningful and exciting interactions between people.

This pursuit of public happiness is what I believe to be at the core of DCI’s mission. In a world plagued by the impasse of ideological polarization and serious mental health crises, we need to work actively to bring back the virtue of public happiness into our communities. Whether the DCI deliberation model is implemented in local coffee shops or at large academic conferences, each step is crucial in ensuring a path forward. Without this important work, I am afraid that future generations of humanity may forgo ever experiencing public happiness altogether.

As an organization, we seek to overcome preconceived narratives and approach deliberations with intellectual humility and an eagerness to learn. And while some of our deliberations focus on fun and lighter topics, we find it equally necessary to provide a space to converse about controversial yet fundamentally salient topics of our day. 

How we go about creating that space at Davidson is a question that the DCI, an organization with a variety of voices, has discussed extensively. Given the gravity of our mission, there is always room for improvement – that is why we ask those of the Davidson community and beyond who find value in providing space for growth to join us and contribute their voices as we strive to create a stronger and more connected citizenry.