Be Understood. Be Understanding.
What happens when the concerns of the world disrupt our teaching spaces? What happens when social, political, and/or religious differences challenge a student’s sense of self and sense of reality? In a larger culture often defined by combative discourse regarding emotionally charged topics, Shenandoah University is carving out a space for itself in which students and faculty are learning how to better engage in thorough, meaningful, thoughtful conversation and debate.
We live in a culture often defined by polarized, combative debate.
At Shenandoah, we understand that’s not the way to create deep understanding, insight, or empathy. That’s why we’re committing ourselves to a new way of relating to one another that sparks thorough, meaningful, thoughtful conversations in our classrooms.
Our program encourages everyone across the university to:
- Encounter ideas and perspectives in many different ways
- Engage in civil dialogue about important issues
- Express newfound understanding, through reflection
We are creating Shenandoah Conversations, in which we truly communicate. Where we speak with one another, not AT one another.
With discussions facilitated by faculty and students. Where we listen. . . and think . . . and grow. . .and then take these lessons out into our daily lives.
Be Understood. Be Understanding. Shenandoah Conversations.
Making responsible contributions to the world —one conversation at a time.
Shenandoah Conversations in the Classroom
Shenandoah Conversations aims to equip faculty and students with the communication skills to confront disruption and difference with curiosity, mutual understanding, and respect.
The project centers on three interrelated actions — encounter, engage, and express — to support student-learning outcomes related to communication and perspective-taking in the classroom.
We will prepare faculty to craft immersive learning experiences — a campus or community event, guest speaker, on-campus performance, VR or AR experience, assigned reading, artwork or media — that evoke student perspectives. After encountering a concept, students will then engage with peers over challenging ideas and express their understanding across difference using Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) to conduct civil discourse in the classroom. Finally, students will express their own understanding of a complex issue in the context of multiple perspectives in a follow-up written assignment, such as an argumentative essay, compare and contrast essay, research project, exam essay, group writing, etc.
One of the purposes of this project is to create a culture of engaging in civic dialogue at Shenandoah by exposing our students to as many RSD experiences as possible. We believe that the flexibility of this project, since it can be used in a specific class as often or as sporadically as a faculty member decides, will allow faculty to adapt it easily to fit the structure and needs of their courses.
Contact Adela Borrallo-Solís at email@example.com for more information.
Examples of encounters: a campus or community event, guest speaker, on-campus performance, VR or AR experience, assigned reading, artwork or media.
Examples of express: Argumentative essay, compare and contrast essay, research project, exam essay, group writing, etc.
Benefits of engaging in Civil Dialogue in the classroom:
- Improves a student’s sense of student belonging
- Fosters an environment of curiosity, rather than defensiveness
- Empowers students to be genuine with each other
- Promotes deeper learning of course content and critical, reflective thinking
- Enables faculty and students to ask better questions
- Promotes students’ willingness and motivation to speak in class about
- Helps students identify and articulate their personal commitments
Shenandoah Conversations Testimonials
See what our students and faculty say about Shenandoah Conversations and Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD.
My first encounter with RSD was at an orientation gathering for the Faith Seeking Justice Christian Leadership Program. I was accepted into this program at the start of my freshman year so I was invited to a session where we would be discussing racism in faith communities. It just so happened that this gathering would be taking place before I had even moved in! At the time, I was terrified that I would be engaging in an uncomfortable topic of conversation with college students I had never met before. However we used RSD to engage in conversation and suddenly I found myself not to terrified but engaged, interested, and excited to join the conversation. What I liked the most was that I had time to reflect before I was asked to speak, and that I also had an option not to speak and that was perfectly acceptable. I felt at ease even though the topic was uncomfortable. Throughout my semesters here at SU I have used RSD quite often in classrooms and I really do believe that it is an effective way to engage in dialogue, so I became a fellow! I have seen first hand RSD’s ability to cultivate a space where even people with the most differing of opinions can find a place of understanding.” Meredith D. Webb ’21 | Resident Assistant, Parker Hall, Not Just Women’s Center Peer Mentor, Hornet Ambassador
Becoming a facilitator for Shenandoah Conversations changed my outlook on what it means to be an active listener. I always thought that being a good listener was one of my key strengths, but in training for RSD, I found that I what I thought was good listening was me finishing someone else’s thought for them. As a student, it’s hard to have classroom experiences that work on your listening ability, but I’m so thankful I have the chance to work on this skill in and educational setting before venturing into the professional world. I’ve found that the way I listen has dramatically changed, and I think it has helped me gain a great amount of trust and respect with my peers. Maya Bhatnagar ’22 | Theatre Design and Production major, FYS Mentor
Shenandoah Conversations has been an incredible outlet for me to be able to connect with other students across majors and disciplines. It can be hard to begin conversations with people who may have a differing point of view, but Reflective Structured Dialogue gives me a solid structure to begin these kinds of discussions. I think it really has given me the confidence to continue seeking out dialogues that may be uncomfortable but are incredibly important to be having.” Jenna Barricklo ’21
Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) provides a framework for facilitating active listening, careful reflection, open consideration, and empathic acceptance and understanding among students as they learn to discuss and explore their own and others’ viewpoints on challenging/emotive topics.”
Bronwen Landless | Assistant Professor of Music Therapy
RSD asks students to draw on their own experience. This is revolutionary because academia often assumes that knowledge is objective and context doesn’t matter. RSD pauses for reflection. Spending a minute thinking about a question before responding to it might not feel revolutionary, but it allows students who wouldn’t otherwise join the conversation to consider what to say. RSD teaches students how to use their own experiences as data and to take their stories and themselves seriously.”
Meredith Minister | Assistant Professor of Religion
The most positive impact has been seeing my fellow faculty excited about teaching and seeing the way that students not only begin to know and like each other more but also begin to see each other as partners in learning.”
Kevin Minister | Assistant Professor of Religion
RSD has given me the confidence to feel like I can express my opinions, over often controversial topics, in a group of people that may not always agree with me. I also now feel like I have the skills to navigate conversations like this in the workplace, or whatever environment. It has taught me what it means to be a true active listener, and to always strive to understand where the other person is coming from.”
Jennifer Shoemaker ’21 | Nursing & Spanish double major
[RSD] facilitated a process where students were able to reflect more deeply on their values and perspectives. In that reflection, they were able to articulate these both orally in groups and in written form.”
Keith Jones Pomeroy | Assistant Director of Spiritual Life.
I think RSD definitely helps encourage better discourse, because of the underlying values/ethics of using RSD. Some of the most significant values that I perceived would be patience, vulnerability, intellectual humility and curiosity. To me, all of these values are considerably crucial when pursuing honest communication.”
Madeleine Bohnett ’20 | Music performance (violin) major
In the Express piece I really felt that the papers from students were more thoughtful, more reflective, and more cogently structured than if I simply gave them a topic to research and write about. I really believe that the reflective structured dialogue we did about controversies surrounding the commemorative landscape afforded students the opportunity to focus and think in a way that they could not have with a traditional paper assignment.”
Jonathan Noyalas ’01 | Assistant Professor of History and McCormick Civil War Center Director
Shenandoah Conversations Fellows
Students who have experienced Shenandoah Conversations in the classroom and have embraced the process are nominated by a faculty member to join the program.
After completing a training process they can become Shenandoah Conversation Fellows. The initial fellows encountered Shenandoah Conversations through a fall 2018 pilot program.
Shenandoah University congratulates the following Shenandoah Conversation Fellows for their efforts and commitment to facilitating civil dialogue:
- Julia Kashishian
- James Lackey
- Scout Kirkham
- Wyatt Schannaver
- Sarah Gallant
- Megan McCormick
- Grace Thompson
- Madeleine Bohnett
- Kyle Hooven
- Courtney Hodges
- Jenna Barricklo
- Samantha Benton
- Emily Wright
- Jessica Stuart
- Erin Salmon
- Brianna Turner
- Annie Hart
- Scout Kirkham
- Allyson Altland
- Melanie Faliskie
- Kyle Hooven
- Jonathan Kowiatek
- Bailey Hamilton
- Whitney Anderson
- Kara Johnson
- Maddy White
- Zoila Cortes
- Damaris ODebode
- Brooke Rittner
- Kaytie Greenawalt
- Mel Siebert
- Carmen Mazyck
- Marisa Whitcomb
- Austasha Miller
- Bradley Hoffman
- Kristina Wilson
- Nicole Fuller
- Erin Carroll
- Kaitlyn Shand
- Meredith Webb
- Maya Bhatnagar
- Hanaa Unus
- Danni Greer
Shenandoah Conversations on Campus
Shenandoah Conversations aims to build a campus culture of engaging in civil dialogue around difficult and complex topics. The tools developed in this program can be applied inside and outside the classroom to promote mutual understanding and foster an environment of curiosity rather than defensiveness. We encourage and support our whole campus community to consider using the tools developed in this program.
For more information, please contact Adela Borrallo-Solis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be Understood. Be Understanding.