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Campus Dialogues: Creating a Culture of Civility

November 15, 2016 Anne Aichele Marymount University

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking protest and civil unrest around the country. Over 800 miles away in Arlington, Virginia, a group of students at Marymount University raised their voices to request a forum to discuss current events and implications. Realizing the need for this conversation and others like it, the University set out to create an intentional dialogue series to engage students, faculty, and staff in meaningful educational and conversation surrounding issues that impact the campus on a local, national, and global level.

According to Dugan and Correia (2014), research has demonstrated that socio-cultural conversations with peers are influential in shaping leadership ability and capacity in college students. They define socio-cultural conversations as “formal and informal dialogues with peers about differences (i.e., topics which elicit a wide range of perspectives) as well as interactions across differences (e.g., with people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than oneself (Dugan & Correia, 2014, p. 11). Marymount University is a small, Catholic, liberal arts university with a focus on holistic education through intellectual curiosity, service to others, and global perspective. The University is currently ranked 2nd for ethnic diversity and 5th for percentage of international student attendance among regional universities in the south (U.S. News, 2016). In addition to ethnic diversity, the campus also includes students from a wide range of religious, geographical, and political backgrounds. This variety of beliefs and experiences creates an environment that is both favorable and in need of these integral socio-cultural conversations.

In addition to its commitment to the liberal arts curriculum, Marymount is grounded in the tradition of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM). The mission of the RSHM is based in social justice, especially for women and children, and calls for respect of diversity around the world through peace and justice (RSHM, 2016). Using this mission as a foundation for the campus dialogue series, professionals from the Division of Student Affairs created a template for upcoming dialogues. The template drew on the practices established by the Network for Peace through Dialogue, a non-profit whose goal is to “provide a platform so that communities and societies can expand understanding and discuss their differences within a dynamic environment to help resolve conflicts and cooperate more fully (Network for Peace through Dialogue, 2013). These practices include:

  1. Listen for understanding
  2. Speak from your heart
  3. Suspend judgement
  4. Hold space for differences
  5. Slow down

These practices are presented at the beginning of each of the dialogue events to set ground rules and establish an environment of civil discussion and discourse. Each dialogue event also includes a brief educational component on the topic of the discussion.

Since fall 2014, the University has hosted six dialogues, with topics ranging from the turmoil in Ferguson and the resulting national racial tension to an educational discussion on Title IX and its implications on campus culture and climate.  Many of the topics to date have been driven by concerns or issues that are prevalent to our students or the campus community as a whole, but the goal would be to move towards a mixed format that would include proactive, intentional discussions on specific topics along with the more spontaneous topics that come as a result of an immediate need on campus. An additional goal of future dialogues is to collaborate with Academic Affairs to provide a deeper intellectual foundation for participants. Our ultimate goal is to provide a forum for students to create a culture of curiosity, civility, communication, responsibility, and respect.


Best Colleges. (2016) Retrieved November 08, 2016, from http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges

Dugan, J. P., & Correia, B. (2014). MSL insight report supplement: Leadership program delivery. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.

Network for Peace through Dialogue. (2013). Retrieved November 8, 2016, from http://www.networkforpeace.com/what/mission.html

Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (2016). Retrieved November 08, 2016, from http://www.rshm.org/