Dartmouth Dialogues Drives the Conversation

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The initiative seeks to foster authentic discussions about differing points of view.

Photo grid of students and faculty

President Sian Leah Beilock today announced the launch of Dartmouth Dialogues, a wide-ranging series of initiatives that will showcase Dartmouth’s commitment to programming across the institution that facilitates conversations and skills bridging political and personal divides.

“Dartmouth has long championed dialogue across difference,” says President Beilock. “From the Great Issues course introduced by then-President John Sloan Dickey in 1947 to presidential debates held on campus since 1984, Dartmouth Dialogues brings a renewed focus on our ability to think critically, to question, and to probe and reflect, rather than blindly follow a predetermined ideology.”

Dartmouth Dialogues will build on current initiatives such as the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social SciencesPath to the Presidency series; the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding’s Dissent and Democracy project, and discussions about the Israeli-Hamas war.

“We seek to build bridges and produce solutions,” says Beilock.

First Up: The Dialogue Project

The first new program to roll out of the Dartmouth Dialogue umbrella is the Dialogue Project, a campus initiative years in the making that cultivates intentional training in the development of collaborative dialogue skills among students, faculty, and staff.

“I’m excited to see how the project will foster brave spaces and build community at Dartmouth,” says Beilock.

Elizabeth F. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, founded and is co-leading the Dialogue Project as director of academic partnerships and faculty engagement with Kristi Clemens, who is serving as the project’s director of student and staff initiatives. 

The Dialogue Project currently features four main components: a special topic series, the first of which is Middle East Dialogues, encompassing courses and events related to timely challenging topics; a new partnership with the nonprofit StoryCorps’ One Small Step program, which brings strangers with different perspectives together to record a conversation about their lives; workshops where faculty, staff, and students can practice the skills of collaborative dialogue; and guest speakers on campus who model and specialize in dialogue-related skills.

“We are at a critical moment when we seem to have lost the ability—and the will—to listen to and understand perspectives beyond our own,” Smith says. “Dialogue enables us to recognize and build upon our shared humanity.” 

“By creating brave spaces, we will challenge our community to confront power dynamics and come together in pursuit of genuine dialogue, leading to increased empathy and a deeper sense of community,” says Clemens, who has written about creating “brave spaces” for social justice dialogues in academic contexts. 

The project’s steering committee includes leaders from across campus, including the Leslie Center for the Humanities, Rockefeller Center, Student Wellness Center, Dartmouth Political Union, Human Resources, Office of Pluralism and Leadership, and Dartmouth’s undergraduate residential house communities

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“I look forward to collaborating with the project to advance skills that protect our democracy and fulfill our mission as an institution of higher learning,” says Jessica Chiriboga ’24, a member of the steering committee and president of the undergraduate student body and the nonpartisan Dartmouth Political Union.

Building Emotional Intelligence and Other Skills

On Jan. 26, the project will host its inaugural speaker—leading psychologist and best-selling author Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, who will speak at a Filene Auditorium event open to students, faculty, and staff. 

“One of the biggest impediments to constructive dialogue is the surge of strong emotions that can occur when engaging in conversations about challenging topics. Schools, the government, and corporations around the world have benefited from Marc’s actionable and science-based approach to understanding and managing emotions,” Smith says. 

Planned sessions with Brackett include meeting with undergraduates and with Dartmouth’s senior leadership team.

A professor in the Child Study Center at Yale and author of Permission to Feel, Brackett has published more than 150 articles on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in learning, decision making, creativity, relationships, health, and performance.

Special Topic Series: Middle East Dialogues

The Middle East Dialogues will be the Dialogue Project’s first special topic series. A new series will be offered each year or every other year, depending in part on current events. 

Building on their decades-long partnership and this past fall’s influential community forums, Dartmouth’s Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs will lead the multifaceted Middle East Dialogues, with a focus on the current crisis. 

“Educators around the world continue to seek advice from our Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies professors on how to facilitate campus conversations about the current crisis,” says Beilock. “We look forward to expanding courses, speaker series, and other programming that will involve our community in trying to understand this complex situation, and even consider potential long-term solutions.”

Middle East Dialogues will encompass expanded course offerings over the next several terms. This winter, for example, the course Politics of Israel and Palestine, taught by senior lecturer Ezzedine Fishere, an adviser to pro-democracy groups and a former diplomat, will include a webinar series featuring experts on the region in collaboration with the Dickey Center. 

The virtual series will focus on key aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the following three sessions will be open to public: 

  • Feb. 1, Gilead Sher, former chief of staff of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a senior negotiator during the Camp David Summit, will discuss “Can Israelis and Palestinians Make Peace? Lessons of Camp David.”
  • Feb. 6, Palestinian scholar and writer Khalil El-Shikaki will discuss the rise and future of Hamas. 
  • Feb. 20, Robert Malley, who has served as the U.S. special envoy to Iran and former assistant to presidents Obama and Clinton, will discuss “The Changing Role of the U.S. in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”

Future course offerings include classes this summer on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the lens of cinema, TV, and fiction, taught by Palestinian-Israeli writer and screenwriter Sayed Kashua. Additionally, a public dialogue will be hosted between speakers with divergent backgrounds, building on the success of this past fall’s event featuring a Palestinian and Jewish writing and podcast team who have spent their careers focused on a vision of Israeli and Palestinian coexistence.

“Ultimately, dialogue relies on the assumption that we’re all learners committed to curiosity and remaining open to new ideas and perspectives,” says professor and chair of the Middle Eastern Studies Program Tarek El-Ariss.

As Jewish Studies chair Susannah Heschel recently said on NPR, “I want people to think in complex terms, not to be satisfied with the reductionist approach, to place the present in a larger context of the past but also, as we’ve been saying, to think about a better future, to imagine it.”

First-Ever University Partnership with StoryCorps

As Beilock announced in her inaugural address in September, Dartmouth has formed the first-ever university-wide partnership with the nonprofit StoryCorps. Through its One Small Step program, StoryCorps brings strangers with different perspectives together, two at a time, to record a conversation about their lives—and in the process, discover their shared humanity.

“We are thrilled that Dartmouth will be our first-ever university-wide partner for One Small Step,” says Dave Isay, StoryCorps founder and president. “We believe the Dartmouth community—students, alumni, faculty, and staff—can help demonstrate to the rest of the country that it is possible and necessary for us to see the humanity in one another, even those we disagree with politically.” 

Beilock says, “StoryCorps will help Dartmouth be a national model in higher education for reducing political polarization and building community.”

Faculty and Staff Workshops 

The Dialogue Project will collaborate with the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and Student Wellness Center on upcoming workshops for faculty and staff.

DCAL program manager Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez will lead virtual sessions on Jan. 16 and April 5 on handling difficult conversations in the classroom. Participants will explore why difficult conversations become heated so quickly and how to create brave spaces that keep these important discussions happening without incivility and escalation. 

Student Wellness Center Director Caitlin Barthelmes, a member of the project’s steering committee, will facilitate workshops this spring and summer on motivational interviewing—an evidence-based conversation style rooted in compassion, collaboration, and listening across differences. 

More than $3 million has been contributed in private gifts to support the Dialogue Project from alumni, friends and the Casque & Gauntlet Trust, an alumni organization dedicated to fostering a strong community based on incorporating divergent views and shared values.