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Day of Dialogue

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How do you talk in the workplace about difficult issues such as gender or race inequity?

On October 27, the Five College consortium decided to tackle that question head-on by holding a series of dialogues on each campus, providing staff and faculty a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue on tough topics that effect their everyday lives.

Called the Day of Dialogue, 60 facilitators led over 350 people on the campuses at Hampshire, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and University of Massachusetts Amherst, in two-hour structured Intergroup Dialogues in the morning and afternoon with the goal of improving listening and speaking skills, addressing difficult topics, and gaining a better understanding of different opinions.

"This is an outstanding example of strong Five College collaboration," said Jaime Davila, special presidential assistant for diversity, and one of the people organizing the event.

The Intergroup Dialogue model is based on curriculum designed by Ximena Zúñiga, associate professor of social justice education at University of Massachusetts Amherst's School of Education, and Mark Chesler, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Michigan.

Hampshire staff and faculty who wanted to participate chose from four topics: race and ethnicity; gender; religion; and class and rank. Each focused on people's experiences in the workplace.

Josiah Litant 00F, assistant dean of students for new student programs at Hampshire, co-facilitated the discussions on gender in the workplace. He said the Day of Dialogue was energizing and he hopes to be a part of more in the future.

"When we're talking about difficult topics, a lot of it is just understanding where someone else is coming from even if you don't agree with them," said Litant. "Because of the way the space is structured [in Intergroup Dialogue], there are things that I was able to think of that I wouldn't have normally. This is a great way of addressing issues in a way that recognizes the power dynamic and tries to make room for all voices."

The 60 facilitators comprised staff and faculty from each of the five colleges who went through a three-day training in June. Training college employees, instead of bringing in outside consultants, was a purposeful choice by the Intergroup Dialogue Committee, the Five College committee that organized the Day of Dialogue. "We wanted to develop the capacity of our institutions to continue doing this work," said Davila.

The next priority is for the committee and facilitators to figure out where to go from here, Davila said. "Everyone I spoke to at Hampshire was enthusiastic and hoped it would continue."

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