North Central News

Dialogue Across Differences: “We’re allowing space for others to express themselves”

Laura Pohl

Oct 23, 2020

Learning how to appreciate other perspectives and to move beyond stereotypes and assumptions—these sound like straight forward goals but they can be challenging in today’s divisive social climate.

Last year, North Central College was selected as one of six institutions from across the country to receive a $10,000 Dialogue Across Differences Fund grant from Ashoka U. A year after receiving the grant, there are now programs, training opportunities and facilitator tools in place to support anti-racism training, student events and campus dialogue.

“We’ve already seen a difference in how students talk to each other and structure their communication during discussions of issues,” said Stephania Rodriguez ’14, assistant director of multicultural affairs. Project leads Rodriguez and Kamelotte Gregory, assistant director of the Center for Social Impact, are overseeing the implementation of dialogue training and the development of a dialogue training toolkit called CHIRP, named for how Cardinals communicate with each other.

A portion of the $10,000 grant went toward training conducted by Essential Partners, an organization that equips people to navigate their values, beliefs and identities. The organization presented approaches to healthy dialogue during a two-day campus training event in fall 2019, attended by more than 40 faculty, staff and students.  

The training introduced tools like communications agreements now in use during campus dialogue events. A communication agreement fosters a safe environment where participants can have a purposeful and personal exchange of ideas, inquiries and experiences, without being interrupted​ and with less stress and tension.  

These statements are examples of what might be included in a communications agreement:  

  •     We will be ready to listen for understanding; ​
  •     We can “pass” or “pass for now” if we are not ready or do not wish to respond; ​
  •     We will check assumptions by asking questions; ​
  •     We will speak solely for ourselves, speaking as I and not we; ​
  •     We will listen with resilience, “hanging in,” when something is hard for us to hear or understand;​
  •     We will respect any requests for confidentiality.

“The communication agreement sets the tone,” said Gregory. “It lets everyone know we’re all on the same page and we’re allowing space for others to express themselves.”

Defining dialogue is also important to the process. According to Essential Partners, the primary goal of dialogue is to understand more deeply other perspectives​––and to set aside the desire to persuade. Dialogue also encourages participants to be curious and to ask questions and move beyond stereotypes and assumptions.  

Another component of the program is training facilitators to prepare scripted questions. Rodriguez and Gregory developed the dialogue facilitation guide and CHIRP toolkit to include sample questions, communication agreements and planning assistance. They plan to post the CHIRP Dialogue Toolkit on The HUB (North Central’s  internal web intranet) so anyone can access those resources. Also, they are available to consult with event organizers as needed. Currently they are consulting with students in an academic class on conflict resolution.  

The components of the dialogue training have been in use across campus. “Last year, we started using prepared dialogue questions with the Black Student Association at the first Movie Dialogue event,” said Rodriguez. “At the first [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] task force event on microaggressions, we used tools for reflections and questions. We also helped RAs shape questions for their programming. And we used these tools on the Sankofa trip in March for evening conversations.”  

The campus community can learn more when Rodriguez and Gregory conduct a campus training during Anti-Hate Week. Anyone is welcome to attend the Zoom session, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, from 3 – 4:30 p.m. It can be found on Presence or at the Office of Multicultural Affairs link tree.

Added Rodriguez: “I think what’s most exciting to us is that student groups and organizations have already seen the value of this program and now we want to share it with more of the campus community.”   

For more information, visit the Center for Social Impact’s Activism Resource Center on The HUB. (This site is password-protected and available to North Central students, staff and faculty.) 


Kamelotte Gregory and Stephania Rodriguez

Kamelotte Gregory and Stephania Rodriguez