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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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)
Shenandoah Conversations fosters a campuswide appreciation for the power of active listening. In a world so divided, it can be hard at times to perceive a middle ground. However, by humanizing the experiences of those different from you, students can gain a greater understanding and respect for viewpoints different from yours. Reflective Structured Dialogue gives students the tools to engage in an empathetic and understanding way on and off campus actively and with confidence – this trait will set students apart as they enter society after graduation. I love Shenandoah Conversations because it has allowed me to learn so much about others and also to look inward and become more aware of what core values I hold close. I am grateful to get to play a role in facilitating this growth.”
Zoe Johnston ’25, exercise science student and Shenandoah Conversations fellows coordinator
Many students have been in settings in which their voice is not being heard. In Shenandoah Conservations, everyone has the floor to speak. This may be one of the first times that a student feels comfortable enough to voice their opinion in class, and I’m proud to be a part of something that provides that opportunity. Setting boundaries and having expectations in a discussion allows for respect, something that is crucial in our dialogues. I’ve learned that sometimes what you say is less important than how you listen to others. My favorite part is seeing students who have never spoken with each other before relating over their similar beliefs or lived experiences. It tells me that regardless of background or area of study, we all have a lot more in common than meets the eye.”
Clint Curfman ’24, a vocal performance student and Shenandoah Conversations fellow
Shenandoah Conversations has remarkably shaped the way I engage in difficult conversations in my classes in a way that I never thought possible: 100% participation from students who humanize differences with their stories, and connect with each other through curiosity. I am moved by all these thoughtful dialogues, and also by how our students, faculty and staff have embraced this important program. Not in my wildest dreams I would have thought five years ago that so very many people would have welcomed civil dialogue with open arms at a time of such high societal divisiveness. Thanks to the hundreds of people who have made this possible!”
Adela Borrallo-Solis, Ph.D., professor of Hispanic studies and director of Shenandoah Conversations
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.
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 email@example.com.
Be Understood. Be Understanding.