Recently, Roberts and Saine were invited to deliver presentations about the fireside chats to colleges and universities at the 2017 Ashoka U Exchange held in Miami. The Exchange is a program of Ashoka U, an organization dedicated to transforming higher education into a tool for social innovation. North Central College has been participating in the Exchange for the past three years and is in the process of being considered a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U. If granted, the designation would insert North Central into an elite worldwide group of 39 institutions recognized for their outstanding efforts in creating a culture of social innovation.
At the 2017 Exchange, “We had folks from Fordham University, Stanford, University of San Diego, Tulane, DePaul, NYU and others attend our presentation,” said Roberts. “As we talked about the way we’ve facilitated the fireside chats on campus, it became clear to me that we have the capacity for civil dialogue—not every college can do that. Other campuses feel that there’s a divide between students and the administration. I think that the fireside chats work because of our openness, humility and willingness to share.”
“It makes people human, stripping away the label of student, faculty or staff,” said Roberts. “Even if what you’re hearing is uncomfortable, or you have a different perspective, that is part of the process. There are a lot of ways people can come to agreement, but that’s not our goal. It’s hearing things that can challenge perspectives, and you can decide later on what you’re going to do with that. It’s not about developing a consensus. And I think that’s realistic.”
Roberts teaches courses in North Central’s Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) program. This past fall, Saine was a student in the LEV undergraduate program, where she was responsible for developing and implementing leadership programs like the chats.
In addition, a group from North Central will also lead a session on fireside chats at the 2017 Summer Institute of the New American Colleges and Universities.
“Colleges and universities all over the country engaged in similar discussions last year, but what we did at North Central was more deliberate, multifaceted and purposeful than in many other places,” said Stephen Maynard Caliendo, dean of North Central’s College of Arts and Sciences. “From TIP Talks to fireside chats, we intentionally organized space for members of our community to listen, talk, think, and feel. Other institutions are eager to hear about our process.”
For Sluis, the chats “serve as a place for students to make sense of an event. It also provides a structure that can be implemented immediately when a crisis or situation happens where our community needs to come together for dialogue and also to help make sense of a situation. We would rather do something and risk imperfection than miss an opportunity for conversation.”
“We’re a community of learners dedicated to preparing students to be informed, involved, principled and productive citizens and leaders over their lifetime,” said Sluis. “If we don’t offer this kind of opportunity, where else will our students learn the important skill of engaging in thoughtful dialogue on tough issues? It’s work that supports and protects our democracy.”