Conversations turn to action with the student group Sustained Dialogue, part of an international organization that encourages discussions at 16 college campuses worldwide.
Harvard’s chapter of Sustained Dialogue was started in 2010 in response to Community Conversations, small group discussions held for freshmen during Opening Days that address themes of identity and diversity.
Since the Harvard network was founded, about four groups of 8 to 12 people have met each week to talk about their personal experiences and views on issues, such as identity, race, sexuality, and mental health.
In the past year, Sustained Dialogue has expanded its presence on campus by co-hosting events with many other organizations as well as implementing their own action projects, intended to turn conversations into concrete change.
LEADING THE DIALOGUE
The umbrella organization for Sustained Dialogue supports the Harvard campus network by training two moderators for each group.
The moderators are taught to guide their group, synthesize what has been talked about each week, and make sure that dialogue does not become combative.
“We go through great lengths to distinguish between debate, dialogue, and discussion. We push people to speak through their experiences,” said Ekene I. Agu ’13, one of the founding members of Harvard Sustained Dialogue.
The moderators are trained during Labor Day weekend for two days, eight hours a day. They learn to ask good questions, to encourage productive dialogue, and to teach their groups key phrases that will help them remember to let everyone speak.
“We have certain phrases. You don’t necessarily have to use them, but, for example, ‘Step up, step back’ is one of them,” said Ari M. Albanese ’15, a moderator.
‘Step up, step back’ means that people in the group should speak up, but should also be conscious if they are talking too much and should let others speak, Albanese said.
“It’s basically just a little phrase to help people remember to share the floor, but also participate,” Albanese said.
Because of their trained moderators, many campus organizations have reached out to Sustained Dialogue to help them moderate conversations between different student organizations.
During Harvard’s second annual Sex Week, Sustained Dialogue co-moderated an event about the relationship between race, culture, and expectations of sexual behavior with Sexual Health and Education Advocacy throughout Harvard College.
A FOCUS ON MENTAL HEALTH