By: Thomas Jones, Staff Reporter
Regis University has long been involved with increasing dialogue throughout their local community as well as the broader Denver area. The Institute on the Common Good has been hired by numerous organizations throughout its existence specifically for this purpose. The institute has helped guide productive dialogue for town halls, civic organizations and even some conversations which needed to take place off the books and in private due to their heightened nature of sensitivity. When I met with Daniel Justin, the Assistant Director for the ICG (Institute on the Common Good), he explained to me how the ICG is going to bring this work they’ve been doing for years in the broader community home to Regis and its student body.
This new program which the ICG is starting up has been referred to as both Dialogue Facilitation as well as Dialogue Leadership. Justin stated that the main goal of this program is to “Create a space for authentic dialogue.” What this space looks like, ideally, is one free from persuasion; this space would simply be one where people with possibly opposing views can discuss those views without the conversation turning into an argument. The ICG is accomplishing this through a set of workshops for students to go through who are preparing to be dialogue leaders/ facilitators. The first workshop, which has already taken place, centered around the theme, “What’s going on in a difficult conversation.” This workshop was run by a new faculty member named Mairi-Jane Fox who has over a decade of experience working as a dialogue facilitator. Justin stated that this workshop built skills for the students in the program to engage in difficult dialogue themselves; he furthered, “Before we have leaders, we need participators in dialogue to cultivate that skill.”
Currently, around twenty students have joined the dialogue facilitation program put on by the ICG. Justin stated that the institute encouraged as many people as possible to apply as well as reaching out to specific people to make sure that they have a group of dialogue facilitators that is diverse in every possible way. Long term, the ICG sees this dialogue facilitation program becoming fully student-run; a place where students will be the ones both creating and facilitating dialogue on campus. When speaking on some of the challenges that these students will face within this volunteer work, Justin emphasized that, “The hardest thing about being a facilitator is that you can’t have a side on the issue, you have to give that up while you’re in this space and set it aside so that you can be fair.”
Justin ended our interview by striking at the core reason this dialogue facilitation program is so essential, especially today. He stated, “A lot of dialogue happens on campus’s now to convince people of something. We don’t want that within this program, we instead want dialogue for dialogue's sake. We live in a world which is very quick to dehumanize people who are not like us or don’t agree with us; we want a place where we can treat people as human beings.”