Some time ago I wrote (here and here) about the evolving effects of media isolation, exacerbated by residential, educational, and occupational segregation. The cumulative impact of this is that all of us are surrounded by people and information that are rather homogeneous. Our most frequent interactions and our news sources tend to reinforce our prior beliefs. We’re not observing the real differences that exist in the world.
One way forward is to expose ourselves to conversations with those different from us. This can be challenging, especially when large cultural differences might be present. Indeed, it can even be scary. How do we avoid unintentionally offending the other person? How can we really learn about them without appearing to be prying into their private lives?
This challenge faces faculty, students, and staff members at Georgetown. The Provost’s Committee for Diversity wanted to tackle this problem early in the year, and their work is coming to fruition in the next few days.
Instead of merely noting that we all need to be better at inter-group communication, they’ve decided to do something about it. They’ve planned a set of dialogues across the various cultural, racial, and other groups that together form the Georgetown community.
The talented staff at the Center for New Designs and Learning (CNDLS) have completed some of the training for student volunteer facilitators. The students will coordinate discussions among their fellow students on issues of interaction across groups.
On February 16th, there will be 50 to 60 students engaged in “diversity dialogues,” seeking on their own to become more competent in interacting with different cultures.
One feature of the initiative is its embedding in the larger What’s a Hoya? program of the university. By forming small diverse groups, the dialogues will seek to actively engage students to promote understanding and increase empathy across differences, especially racial differences.
If this first effort proves useful, we’re hopeful that it could be rolled out to larger numbers of students over time.
Talking to others as a way of understanding is a never-ending obligation of a member of a diverse society. We’re hopeful, however, that the interpersonal skills necessary to be an effective listener and collocutor can be learned by all of us. If our students assemble those skills while they’re at Georgetown, perhaps they can avoid the fragmentation and balkanization of groups so evident today in the larger society. The Provost’s Committee for Diversity should be congratulated for taking the lead in helping us see the way forward.