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Creating Opportunities for Dialogue and Continuing Conversation

By Jason Combs

The Dialogue Zone had a successful celebration of its launch during the week of September 23 to 27.  As the initiative moves forward and thoughts turn towards the programming that will take place in the space over the remainder of the semester, the power of dialogue to build understanding across diverse viewpoints is becoming increasingly evident.  

During our launch, the many programs that took place provided a glimpse into this power.  These programs included:

  • Two dialogues in the space that provided participants who attended Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s talks on campus the week before, with an opportunity to make sense of what he shared, to ask questions, and to explore the relevance of his arguments to their lives, especially here at UD
  • Another dialogue on the theme of equity that gave participants a chance to examine this complex topic in light of particular opportunities and challenges at the University
  • A public talk that featured two faculty members at UD -  Dr. Jon Hess, an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Kelly Johnson, Ferree Chair of Social Justice - who each offered some thoughts on the topics of dialogue and community and invited other participants an opportunity to engage them and each other in examining their own experiences in light of what Drs. Hess and Johnson presented  
  • A workshop, the third in a series of three organized under the CAP office, that allowed a cohort of faculty members to build skills and strategies for incorporating dialogue into their courses
  • A training workshop that brought several faculty and staff members together to learn how to facilitate dialogues using a particular approach called intergroup dialogue, which allows participants to build understanding across differences relating to social identity
  • Another workshop that gave a group of students, faculty members, and staff members a chance to learn skills for listening, especially while interacting with those with whom they disagree
  • The week ended with the blessing of library spaces, during which President Eric Spina and Provost Paul Benson shared their thoughts about the recent renovation of Roesch Library, including some brief remarks about the Dialogue Zone.

All of these programs gave participants a chance to engage each other as diverse members of the same community and strengthen their capacity to build understanding in the face of their different views, and to celebrate how dialogue can help to strengthen community at UD. 

In a number of cases, the interaction among participants laid the groundwork for new programs through which they and others can continue the conversations that began.  For instance, in one of the dialogues, participants shared some suggestions about how to continue the conversation regarding Dr. Kendi’s talks and his book How to be an Antiracist in the coming weeks or months.  Insights that developed through the dialogue on equity are now providing a foundation for at least four follow-up dialogues on specific challenges and opportunities relating to equity on campus.  The training of those who wish to facilitate using intergroup dialogue is continuing through multiple additional workshops this approach.  Two of the participants who attended one of the programs are working together with a third colleague to plan some dialogues with students on a specific issue, immigration, in the coming weeks.  Another pairing of participants from the faculty cohort have planned a community dialogue on the upcoming election season in connection with building capacities for facilitation for students in a course that one of them is teaching this term. 

Conversations of this sort allow for a sustained exploration of key issues.  As participants build trust in each other and the process, they become more willing to express views that they otherwise might not have been willing to share. Moreover, because the conversation stretches across time, participants can grow and change with each other.  Their conversation becomes part of the backdrop of their unfolding experience, which allows the multiplicity of voices inherent to dialogue to inform their day-to-day lives over an extended period, rather than at a single moment only.  The potential for transformation to both individuals and the community increases considerably.

The Dialogue Zone looks forward to facilitating these continuing conversations, as well as new programs, over the remainder of the term and beyond.

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