Sustained Dialogue starts year two with more participants, goals to include faculty

Alice Yin, Assistant Campus Editor

A year after its inception, leaders of Northwestern’s Sustained Dialogue tout the success of the student-facilitated discussion program, which drew an increasing number of participants this fall and inspired a plan to potentially include faculty in future quarters.

The program, which is on 30 campuses around the world through the Washington D.C.-based Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, brings about 10 students together each week for a quarter to share their experiences with issues such as race, class and gender.

More than 300 students participated last year in about 10 groups per quarter. This quarter, at least 12 groups are set to begin next week and sign-ups are still ongoing.

“I think a lot of Northwestern students find the campus fairly fractured,” said Weinberg senior Allie Rawson, co-director of Sustained Dialogue. “The goal is to create friendships between people who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to know each other well.”

Austin Romero, ASG vice president of diversity and inclusion, said he’d like to see faculty included in some Sustained Dialogue sessions in upcoming quarters.​

“We want to keep the spaces relevant to the participants’ experiences,” ​Romero, a ​SESP ​s​enior​ and Sustained Dialogue co-founder​, wrote in a message to The Daily. “We want faculty to engage in dialogue around their experiences teaching in and around diversity.”

Rawson said the idea to bring Sustained Dialogue to NU was inspired by past instances of discrimination on campus, inlcuding the ski team’s “Racist Olympics” and the egging of two Asian students. In reaction to these incidents, Dialogue at Deering was created in Spring 2012 to increase understanding and respect between different groups at NU. About 300 students attended the first dialogue.

A pilot program for Sustained Dialogue launched after that spring, and the official program began in Fall 2013. The program, though funded by the University, is primarily student-driven.

Students who participated last year can apply to become moderators for this year’s groups.  Sustained Dialogue leaders are currently working to make the moderator training more “tailored to Northwestern needs,” said Rawson.

Each group creates their own ground rules, although generally they have a policy of “what happens in the group, stays in the group,” said Rawson. Sometimes, groups have projects at the end of the quarter tackling a problem they want to address.

“The biggest different in Sustained Dialogue is that it’s not really about changing anyone’s minds,” Rawson said. “It’s about understanding how they came to the opinion they came to.”

Sustained Dialogue has sparked ideas for endeavors outside of the discussion as well. One example is NU Threads, which was created by a past participant and focuses on hosting clothing drives and communal closets.

“That was the starting point where I got more involved in social justice on campus and different groups,” said Weinberg senior Bisola Sosan, who participated in the program and is now a moderator. “We learned a lot about how to listen to other people who have differing opinions and not jumping to disagree, and hearing them out.”

At times, Sustained Dialogue hosts groups that include members of a specific population. Examples include NU InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and a student athlete group in the summer. Student leaders can approach Sustained Dialogue to host a discussion series for their organization.

The headline of this story was updated at 12:33 a.m. Sept. 26.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Romero’s statements.

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Previous stories on this topic:

    Northwestern community gathers to renew Deering dialogue
    ‘Next to Normal’ partners with Sustained Dialogue to foster mental health discussion