What are the possibilities for small group facilitated discussions in the work of the student government? The Student Government Association (SGA) of West Virginia University invited IF Fellows Natalie Hopkinson and Jeff Prudhomme to help them explore these possibilities as the SGA got ready to embark on a new academic year. The twenty-five SGA members engaged in exploratory discussions facilitated by Hopkinson and Prudhomme—and then got a chance to facilitate their own discussions. They came away from the experience with a set of ideas about how they might integrate IF discussions in their interactions with their constituents and internally within the SGA. “This is exactly what we need,” remarked one of the representatives.
The workshop began with a collaborative exploration of a diverse range of concerns surrounding the affordability of higher education. SGA members brought up concerns about social and economic class stratification in access to higher education. They discussed the apparent decline of public or state investment in higher education, leading to a shift of costs to individuals and families. They saw a connection here to the economic opportunities that might be available to graduates within the state. What’s in the best interest of the state—and of the best interest of the residents of the state? They also brought up concerns about financial literacy and mentoring or advising support for students to navigate the financial issues around affording college and being on a path for an economically viable career beyond college.
SGA members broke into small groups to practice facilitation with guidance from the IF Fellows. They used these discussions to brainstorm different perspectives on the challenges facing them and their fellow students on campus. This served as a great chance for them to interact about the various topics they wanted to focus on in their coming year of service on the SGA.
To wrap up the SGA members explored how they might put IF-style facilitated discussions into practice. They could see the value for opening people up for collaboration and breaking down the usual hierarchies whether within the SGA or on campus in general. They talked about possibilities for interactions with constituents in weekly “come as you are” conversations with SGA members. They left the session hopeful that IF discussion practices might make a difference in the work of the SGA.