PBSC hosts federal court civil discourse program
Role models in civil discourse may be hard to find these days, but nearly 40 Palm Beach State College students have found theirs by going to court.
PBSC became the first college in the country Wednesday to host Civil Discourse and Decisions, a national initiative of the federal courts that gives high school and college students a courtroom experience of practicing civil discourse and decision-making skills that they can use in their lives.
The students, who are enrolled in Associate Professor Phillip Mancusi’s American Government and Political Science classes, assembled at 10 a.m. in PBSC’s own courtroom, one of the authentic training environments of the Public Safety Training Center on the Lake Worth campus. Inside U.S. District Court Judge Robin L. Rosenberg presided over the three-hour program.
“Every day, students face conflicts that require civil discourse skills that they don’t see modeled in their lives or in the media,” said Rosenberg, who initiated the program along with U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom. “They also face decisions that they may not realize can have legal consequences in federal court.”
After skill-building exercises in civil discourse, a court hearing simulation got underway based on an actual Supreme Court case about cyberbullying. The PBSC students were divided into three groups: Eight played attorneys—four defense and four prosecution—and the rest served as jurors. Four volunteer attorneys—Panayotta Augustin-Birch, Ashley Drumm, Derek Harris and Garth Yearick—worked with the students. Former Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe facilitated the program, which was also videotaped. A video promoting the program nationwide will be posted on the U.S. Courts website.
Rosenberg and Bloom, both of the Southern District of Florida, launched the program last year with high school students. It was piloted in courthouses in West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, Fort Lauderdale and Miami by federal judges and lawyers from local chapters of the Federal Bar Association and county bar associations. Mancusi took a group of Palm Beach State students to a session at the West Palm Beach courthouse in December; they were the first college students in the nation to participate. A follow-up conversation with Rosenberg—he had taught her high-school-age children in dual-enrollment classes—led to bringing the program to the PBSC courtroom.
Mancusi, who teaches PBSC students about the federal court system, cannot think of a better way to add texture and meaning to his classes than to have his students interact with an actual federal judge in a courtroom scenario.
“I think the most important part of the program is it gets students to listen and not be so close-minded,” Mancusi said. “When it comes to issues like gun control, immigration or abortion, a lot of people’s minds are already made up. The whole purpose of the court system is to sit down and simply listen to the evidence that is being presented, and then make up your mind. We’re trying to get students to do that outside of the courtroom when they have political discussions on Facebook or face-to-face in the hallways or with their friends and family. We want them to listen to what other people are saying and understand why somebody may be passionate about a particular issue that you completely disagree with.”
Mancusi and Rosenberg have spoken about continuing the program after this semester, alternating venues between PBSC’s courtroom and the West Palm Beach federal courthouse.
“I would love to bring students back to the federal courthouse in the fall because that experience is even more all-encompassing,” said Mancusi, who is a PBSC alumnus. “Going through metal detectors, interacting with U.S. federal marshals assigned to your courtroom, being in that environment with lawyers and jurors on actual cases, walking the halls—it all adds to the experience.”
For information about the Civil Discourse and Decisions program, contact the Federal Courts National Outreach Manager Rebecca Fanning at firstname.lastname@example.org.