What are the possibilities for student-facilitated discussions outside the classroom to bridge campus divides and foster inclusivity on campus? How could we continue to learn from each other about possibilities for such student-centered discussion experiences? At the October 2016 national meeting of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), Interactivity Foundation (IF) Fellows Jeff Prudhomme and Shannon Wheatley Hartman joined with a group of seven NCDD partners to co-facilitate a workshop to explore these questions. Our partners in designing and delivering the workshop were: Lori Britt (James Madison University), Bianca Eche (SUNY Potsdam), Katie Lese (JMU), Debilyn Molineaux (Living Room Conversations), Tzofnat Peleg-Baker (Rutgers), John Sarrouf (Essential Partners), and Tim Shaffer (Kansas State University). Together with forty or so workshop participants we engaged in a highly collaborative conversation about the possibilities for such student-facilitated discussions, about the organizational structures and forms of training that might support such discussions, about where such discussions might be heading, and about how we might keep learning together from our various experiences. The workshop marked a promising start to what we hope will be an extended conversation around this topic. If you are interested in joining in this conversation, please contact us.
In exploring some of the existing possibilities for student-centered discussions focused on campus inclusivity, we heard from a number of schools (Tufts, UC Boulder, Eastern Mennonite, Wabash, American University, Villanova, U of IL Chicago, among others) as well as from other partner organizations (Campus Compact, Bridge Alliance, Sustained Dialogue Institute, The American Focus, and more). After sharing these experiences, the group turned to the exploration of different possibilities for training and supporting students for these campus discussions. We discussed the challenges facing such student-facilitated discussions of diversity and inclusion—and discussed ways of extending and sustaining these discussion experiences over time. Above all there was a great interest in remaining connected with one another around these possibilities to continue learning from one another.
The Interactivity Foundation has grown increasingly interested in the ways we can help students continue vital 21st century civic discourse skill development outside the classroom context. Our initial educational efforts focused on integrating student-facilitated discussions into college classrooms. After having these classroom experiences, students often see possibilities to use their discussion skills across campus. Our campus colleagues have also expressed a desire to use student-facilitated peer-to-peer discussions to foster a campus environment more welcoming of diversity. Since the IF discussion process focuses on the collaborative exploration and development of diverse perspectives and divergent possibilities, it seems like a natural fit for discussions focused on inclusivity and diversity. We hope to continue to explore these possibilities with the campus partners around the country.