Video by Joe O'Neill; text by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Two months in, some of the pioneering students in Dickinson’s inaugural Dialogues Across Differences class are sharing what they’ve learned so far. The class, Speaking and Writing Across Differences, is an integral part of the Dialogues Across Differences program, which aims to help students learn to foster stronger communities through respectful and productive communication with those of different viewpoints. The multipronged program is funded by a three-year, $276,296 grant awarded by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.
“It’s a response to, I would say, polarization in America today,” says Ben Lunde ’27 (international business & management), who was eager to enroll in the team-taught, full-credit course, offered for the first time this fall.
Open to students in any major, the Dialogues Across Differences class helps students learn theories, skills and techniques that promote productive dialogue. Participants gain tools to create an atmosphere of trust that makes it possible to share divisive viewpoints without fear of derision or of damaging a relationship, to listen carefully and thoughtfully to others’ experiences and viewpoints and to disagree in ways that reinforce, rather than degrade, a sense of safety and shared community. They also research a topic widely considered to be controversial or divisive and consider ways to engage a diverse group around that topic.
After passing the class, the students are eligible for paid on-campus employment as student facilitators, helping to lead Dialogues Across Differences discussions on campus and teach associated skills.
Lily Hogan ’25 (philosophy) describes the class as a joyful experience. She’s grateful for the chance to connect with students with different viewpoints and similar overarching goals. “We’re all here to have a really rich and supportive community,” she says.
“Although there’s passion and energy in the class, we all kind of accept that and welcome it,” says Georgia Dahm ’24 (Spanish, IB&M). “Even if it gets a little heated, there’s a very strong sense of respect.”
As Dahm notes, the program is positioned to become a standard-bearer in higher education. Dahm adds that she’s already seeing the effects of this work on campus. “I'm really grateful that Dickinson was chosen to receive this grant, because it's kind of what I expected when I came to Dickinson—being able to share ideas,” she says.
Hogan agrees. “I hope I don't ever wind up in a space where everyone I ever meet agrees with me about everything,” she says. “It’s so important to have a really open mindset, stay flexible and stay learning.”
Published November 17, 2023