One of the wonderful attributes of Georgetown is its devotion to inter-group dialogue as a tool to deeper understanding and solidarity. We have several organizations and activities that help us understand perspectives of alternative faith systems. We continue “A Different Dialogue” permitting students to develop comfort with, and skill for, discourse on difficult topics in order to foster positive, meaningful, and sustained cross-group relationships (issues like Ability and Disability, Religion, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Race and Ethnicity). We have a thriving Center for Social Justice that engages Georgetown students, faculty, and staff in close collaboration with disadvantaged DC community members. The Doyle Engaging Difference Program offers faculty and students opportunities in learning techniques for pedagogical innovation relevant to issues of difference and diversity, identity and inclusion.
All of us are embedded in a larger society struggling to deal with long run effects of racism, fragmented relationships between law enforcement institutions and their communities, and residential segregation by income and race. Research on the recent violent deaths show large differences by race and ethnicity in how those events are understood. Yet many of us seem to struggle with talking to those outside our own group about these important issues.
We are also members of an institution that is grappling with its own history of slavery and the sale of 272 enslaved persons in 1838. It is doing so in a transparent, public way. It is doing so by reaching out to the descendants of those 272 persons and seeking their help in shaping our actions going forward. Through that, it is attempting to help each of us discover our particular role in grappling with this history.
Conversations across groups from different cultures are difficult. We don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves by using inappropriate words. We don’t want to make someone in the conversation feel guilty about some prior offense. Yet at the same time we seek to understand the world view of others in the conversation.
Such conversations require a set of social skills that all of us can learn, ones that clearly express our sincere interest in another person’s thoughts. None of us come equipped with full knowledge of how different words are perceived in groups with whom we don’t frequently interact. Trained facilitators can help us over these hurdles.
The Provost’s Committee for Diversity met yesterday and discussed a proposal to create discussion fora with such facilitated dialogue across subgroup lines. We will use the deep experiences in mounting such discussions within the Student Affairs staff, CNDLS, and the Center for Social Justice. The committee is actively seeking collaborators across the university.
None of us can understand others as clearly as we understand ourselves, but honest dialogue with others is a necessary step to any increase in the understanding of others. This is a special moment at Georgetown; generations from now deserve that all of us be engaged as part of progress on these matters. Learning to talk and listen to one another is a good first step.