Dignity and Respect in Action: Community Conversations were held in February and March 2019. They explored ideas around dignity and respect, the challenges and fears we face when having difficult or sensitive conversations, what this means for us individually and collectively, and how we can work to create a campus environment that rejects hate and embraces our ideals of respect, dignity, and inclusion. Staff supervisors were asked to provide release time for participants and ambassadors.
What Are Community Conversations?
Unlike the Spring 2018 Climate Conversations, which were designed to gather data on our experiences in our Colleges and Units, the Spring 2019 Dignity and Respect In Action: Community Conversations focused entirely on skill building around respective dialogue, to allow us to better engage with one another. The format was as follows:
- Sessions were limited to around 60 people per session, with small groups seated at tables with a trained Climate Ambassador.
- Lead facilitators provided the room with an overview of the LARA method of communicating through respectful dialogue. LARA is designed to help us engage in discussion empathetically in a way that invites diverse perspectives in an effort to create shared meaning.
- The small group tables were then given a discussion prompt on a topic that spurred conversation around a specific issue affecting our campus.
The goal: to help students, faculty, and staff improve communication across differences and create positive relationships with others in the UMass community.
The challenge: we come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that lead to varying levels of comfort and ability to interact thoughtfully across difference. Poor interactions can be very harmful, and worries about being misinterpreted can make interactions stressful. These concerns can keep individuals from engaging with others who don’t share their background or lead to miscommunication when they do.
The plan: Community conversations provided spaces to help individuals develop skills and participate in conversations exploring what dignity and respect mean for each of us with other campus community members. All conversation participants received skill focused training and materials and be part of a small group conversation around themes of dignity and respect. Pre-scheduled sessions have closed, but sessions can also be held for departments/units upon request.
The outcomes: by participating in Community Conversations, participants reported experiencing:
Increased active listening skills
Increased ability to sustain respectful engagement when disagreements occur
Increased ability to comfortably disengage from conversations that are unproductive or potentially volatile
Increased comfort engaging in conversations where people have differing perspectives than you
Increased level of empathy and understanding towards different experiences