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Why this institute

“How we as citizens persuade, advocate, and converse with one another across competing opinions is of utmost importance to the future health of our democracy. As citizens and voters, we need to address our divisions and learn how to talk to each other again in a civil manner.”

– Shepherd University President Mary J.C. Hendrix

Bonnie Stubblefield, Donna Brazile, President Mary J.C. Hendrix, and Bill Stubblefield

From left to right: Bonnie Stubblefield, Donna Brazile, President Mary J.C. Hendrix, and Bill Stubblefield

Why do we need the Stubblefield Institute?

The divide that has been growing between political worlds threatens our democracy.

This divide has grown due to many causes. Among these, changes in the media have led to a decrease in funding for community journalism, leaving citizens without the strength, depth, and breadth of regular coverage of local issues that we had in the past.

As people seek to maintain their footing within a maelstrom of information, misinformation and opinion, buzzwords and labels provide a temporary and superficial feeling of understanding, belonging, and collective power. Therefore, some refuse to engage in broader political discourse, instead selecting to remain with insular groups.

Others are fed up with the name-calling, drama, and rancor that has created a gridlocked government in which even our political parties appear divided within themselves. When a large percentage of disenchanted people choose to ignore politics and government, it is easier for those who remain to change policy unchecked.

Additionally, those who are willing to engage in our political processes are facing skyrocketing rates of political violence which dissuade yet more citizens from civic participation.

All these together lead to lower quality democracy and lower quality government, causing despair, apathy, and withdrawal. This is not the America any of us want right now. We can do better.

At the Stubblefield Institute, we explore ways that civil political communication can close the divide and support democracy.

We don’t have all the answers. We are scholars, professionals, community members, and students learning together about how everyone can engage in a productive communication process that can lead to understanding, empathy and innovative problem-solving.

The Stubblefield Institute was founded to support civil political communications at all levels to benefit the world today and long into the future.

It is possible to enjoy good political discussion with people who can speak with passion without getting mad.

While careful, thorough, and respectful discussion does not always lead to agreement, civil political communications cause us to be more connected to our neighbors, developing empathy, community resiliency, and hope.

It is possible to be part of a community that can build connections and share diverse viewpoints.

In doing so, people will be more likely to be civically engaged, whether by attending a town hall meeting or running for public office.

Better dialogue between public and government, increased transparency, and more civic engagement disrupts destructive patterns of weaponizing information and political discourse.

It is possible to step away from the national atmosphere of divisive political rhetoric.

Civil political discourse leads to higher quality democracy and government that is more effective and innovative — and better represents the American people.

The home of the Stubblefield Institute is a public university campus in West Virginia, where we are training the next generation of political communicators. The Shepherd University political science program and communications program now connect through the concentration in political communications. Small class sizes enable students to engage directly with professors and visiting political communications professionals.

Active networks of Shepherd University students, faculty, and alumni join community members and professionals to support the mission of the Stubblefield Institute. The Institute helps this large and diverse group to develop civil political communication knowledge, patterns, tools, and skills to share across our region, state, and nation.

We are close to Washington D.C., with its federal government offices, trade associations, think tanks, policy centers, lobbyists, and media groups. But we are also in a lower-population state with approachable legislative and governmental bodies.

The Stubblefield Institute brings people together at an ideal location for the purpose of facilitating discussions about today’s challenging societal problems – and preparing to address those of tomorrow – through civil political communication.

Drs. Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield

Drs. Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield

Made possible by a generous gift by Drs. Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield, the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications officially opened its doors on July 1, 2019, with offices in the beautiful Frank Center on the campus of Shepherd University.

Learn more about Dr. Bill Stubblefield through this interview held at Shepherd University.

“A Storied Life” – Shepherd Speaks StoryCorps Project, October 16, 2023