SNF Ithaca Initiative to Foster Civil Discourse Launches at the University of Delaware
17 May 2021

The University of Delaware Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration has announced the launch of a new pilot program designed to incubate the foundational skills and attitudes that allow civil discourse to flourish, through a major grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF): the SNF Ithaca Initiative.

The initiative will include a range of new offerings to help students at the Biden School become engaged citizen-leaders, from courses related to civil discourse and a seminar with public servants from across the political spectrum, to bipartisan cohorts of visiting fellows, an award for civility in public service, a student leadership program, a range of events, and more.

The name of the initiative comes from the story of Odysseus, who was renowned for his powers of speech and who left and eventually returned to his home on the Greek island of Ithaca. Civil discourse likewise provides both an immediate starting point and a long-term goal for the initiative, which hopes to show the way to healthier habits for democracy.

SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos said, “Civil discourse and civic engagement, two key pillars of our democracy, are not about having all the solutions or all the right answers. They’re a journey, one we must engage in together in good faith and with respect for the inherent dignity of all people. We are proud to support the Biden School at the University of Delaware in helping equip tomorrow’s leaders to embark on this journey.”

“Every day, I am inspired by the students I work with at the Biden School,” said Biden Institute Vice Chair Valerie Biden Owens. “Despite the monumental scale of the challenges we face as a nation, these students are demonstrating courage, compassion, and the desire to make a difference. The incredible generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation now gives us the ability to equip these passionate young people with tools that can help them become effective and civil leaders who can work together toward policy solutions.”

Fostering thriving civic engagement, civil discourse, and civic life is a major ongoing focus in SNF’s grantmaking, and the establishment of the SNF Ithaca Initiative mirrors recent landmark grants to other Universities in the United States. Created in 2018 through a $150 million grant from SNF, the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University brings together experts from political science, psychology, philosophy, and other disciplines to foster open and inclusive discourse. The SNF Paideia Program at the University of Pennsylvania, created through a $6 million SNF grant in 2019, seeks to imagine a new paradigm for its project of educating students as whole people and citizens.