Many departments and student organizations at Macalester pride themselves on their willingness to explore issues related to difference, but some students and staff have identified clear gaps in formal programming around diversity.
While many organizations and programs on campus seek to facilitate discussions about identity and conflict, Lisa Landreman, Associate Dean of Students, and Chris MacDonald-Dennis, the Dean of the Department of Multicultural Life, wanted to provide another opportunity for students to develop the skills to take on difficult topics.
“Students came to student affairs staff and talked about not being able to have authentic dialogues on campus other than with their friend group,” said MacDonald-Dennis. “Too often people run from conversations that may make them uncomfortable.”
After examining the options, students Mbemba Camara ’14, Isela Gomez ’13, Abbie Shain ’14 and MacDonald-Dennis attended a conference hosted by Sustained Dialogue Campus Network (SDCN) in August 2012. While there, the students learned about the foundation’s college programs.
Sustained Dialogue Campus Network is an initiative of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, and was created by Dr. Harold Saunders, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to Henry Kissinger.
Saunders’ involvement with the Camp David Accords inspired students at Princeton University to moderate discussions around issues of race and conflict. In 2002, Saunders created a foundation that has expanded to other campuses.
“We [were] particularly interested in programs [that might] enhance our students’ abilities to engage in difficult dialogues across difference to enhance their experiences,” Landreman said. “We want to prepare students to be responsible global citizens, who can engage with others thoughtfully, authentically, and courageously.”
After attending the conference, Shain, Gomez and Camara felt that Sustained Dialogue would be the perfect addition to Macalester’s campus. Student Affairs has teamed up with the students to offer an initial training this March.
For this training, leaders from the SDCN headquarters in Washington, DC will help teach participants organizational techniques for facilitating discussion.
After participants have been trained, Gomez hopes these newly empowered student leaders will pass on the skills they have learned to the students around them.
In addition to future trainings, Macalester’s new Sustained Dialogue Chapter will also host regular discussions, events coordinated by the national headquarters and spontaneous conversations surrounding issues raised on campus.
Gomez envisions the chapter running similarly to MCSG, an administration-supported program run by students. She feels that this will set it apart from organizations that do the same thing and give more power to effect greater change.
“There are a lot of groups that do tidbits of this on campus,” Gomez said. “Sustained Dialogue hopes to support this by bringing people together and sustaining this with national support.”
The chapter will seek to provide a continuous backdrop supporting student leaders in learning to tackle conversations. The hope is that participants will be able to translate these skills to real life dialogue, as well as classroom discussions.
Students are encouraged to sign up for the initial training. For information email firstname.lastname@example.org.