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 after piloting Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) it in their classrooms during the fall of 2018.
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 | 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 Kakashian
- James Lackey
- Scout Kirkham
- Wyatt Schannaver
- Sarah Gallant
- Megan McCormick
- Grace Thompson
- Madeleine Bohnett
- Kyle Hooven
- Courtney Hodges
- Jenna Barricklo
- Samantha Benton
- Emily Wright
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.
Shenandoah Conversations: Inclusion as Purpose
Wednesday, March 20 | 6-7:30 pm | Health & Life Sciences Building Rotunda
SU is committed to inclusion but what does that mean and how is it tied to its purpose and the purpose of those who are part of this institution? As a university associated with the United Methodist Church, what does SU’s commitment to inclusion look like in the wake of the UMC’s recent decision? How can we at SU learn to engage in conflict across difference in order to live up to the inclusive community we claim to be? You are invited to a dinner and discussion exploring inclusion, purpose, diversity, and difference and how we respond to those who are different than ourselves.
Space is limited, so sign up soon! RSVP by Tuesday, March 19.
For more information, please contact Adela Borrallo-Solis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be Understood. Be Understanding.