Students, faculty begin dialogue group


by Jonathan Cox, Special to the Simpsonian

One way to help solve issues and confrontation is to talk about issues you are struggling with. Simpson is now taking steps to help students learn how to be able to effectively do this.

Students and faculty are starting a group to help facilitate dialogue about challenging issues facing campus and the world.

“The main purpose is to help participants develop skills and the capacities to engage in respectful and civil discourse that helps them to really think deeply and sort through different facets of complex and potentially divisive issues,” said Heidi Levine, vice president for student development and planning.

Levine has been looking forward to forming this group for a long time.

“I feel pretty passionate about this, and I have been trying to bring this to Simpson since I got here,” Levine said. “And I am so excited to see it getting some traction and now at a point where we have people that are poised to put this into place.”

She said the term dialogue is a specific and intentionally chosen term to describe the work of the group.

“These are not meant to be debates. It is not about people coming in with their best arguments and trying to persuade other people,” she said. “It is a tool to help people look at different facets of really complicated and sometimes controversial issues and really see the full spectrum of approaching that issue and be able to really listen to each other.”

One of the driving factors that inspired the creation of this group is major racial, religious and political events in the world and on campus. Levine said such issues can be difficult to talk about and can be divisive, especially given the ease for people to post opinions on social media.

“But I don’t know where people are supposed to learn how to engage with each other in ways that are mutually respectful and that are able to deepen all of our knowledge and understanding,” she said.

One purpose of this group is to help start dialogue on a variety of issues, including religion. Chaplain Mara Bailey thinks religion is a perceived barrier in dialogue.

“We think of things like religion and politics as topics that we are supposed to be nice and not talk about, people don’t really feel comfortable sharing because it might come from their faith identity or they don’t want to ask someone else about how their faith impacts their beliefs,” Bailey said. “I think that dialogue skills are vitally important to help us overcome that because I think that approach is causing more harm than good in our society.”

Junior political science and history major Abby Schulte is helping start the group and thinks the group will help the campus as a whole.

“I think that one of the biggest problems that we have here at Simpson and in society is that we are not capable of having productive dialogue. It gets frustrating to see talking points thrown back and forth at each other, so I think it is really important to refocus people back to the ultimate goal and teaching them how to have productive dialogue,” Schulte said.

When asked about how this group will be kicking off, Bailey mentioned they will be piloting a dialogue as a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance.

“On January 21st between 12-2PM some people will have a presentation, and then we will move to an opportunity for dialogue,” Bailey said.  

More information should be coming to students through email.

“I hope that it creates a more inclusive campus environment and that it helps people get the most out of their college experience. I really think this is an important tool that will help impact how people approach different situations,” Schulte said.

Overall, Levine says that she is excited to see this group start so the campus community can learn how to have constructive conversations.

“I truly believe that this is a critical issue for our time, campus and country at this time,” Levine said.  “I believe that this is one of those things that college educated people need to develop skills that our world desperately needs.”