The Dialogue Development Group (DDG) is a student-led, joint program of the Office of Campus Life and the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program at American University whose membership is composed of students, faculty, and alumni with education, training and/or experience in dialogue, and who are committed to the mission, vision and goals of DDG. Our main program is our seven-week dialogue groups where 7-12 participants come together to talk about different issues we all witness everyday. Two trained facilitators help guide the conversation, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own talking points. Some of our topics include religion, race, sexuality, and gender, to name a few.
What is dialogue?
DDG defines dialogue as a guided conversation where people from different backgrounds can speak from their own experiences in an exchange of ideas with others. This helps people find common ground with individuals they might not otherwise talk to, while also learning about their own identity. Unlike debate, dialoguers listen to understand, not to prove a point or convince others of our points of view. There is no emphasis on winning, but rather on learning, collaboration and on creating new and shared understanding.
Why do we need to dialogue?
American University attracts students from every part of the country and the world with an array of political, religious, cultural and gender backgrounds and identities. This diversity is a strength because students can learn from people from all over the world and hear about experiences very different from their own. This diversity is also a challenge in that differences can be a source of division, alienation, misperception, intolerance and prejudice, all of which can splinter our sense of community. Dialogue helps people engage with different individuals, groups and communities on issues that concern or divide them. It has the power to build community by creating a safe space to have difficult conversations.
Are DDG’s seven-week dialogue groups just another class?
No, DDG does not issue grades or critiques on your participation. We want you to speak as you feel comfortable, and get the most out of your experience. You have no homework, outside readings, or lectures. Instead, DDG provides an atmosphere for informal learning where you eat food, sit in a circle and dive into a challenging conversation. Yet don't confuse dialogue with group therapy! In therapy, the purpose is to heal patients. The focus is on the individual, even in group therapy. A therapeutic setting includes finding one’s fears to then have a “breakthrough” and improve their psychological well-being. In dialogue, however, our purpose is to help members of the group learn about each other and develop a sense of community. We focus on the group and the process of sharing experiences with each other. Facilitators ask questions to challenge participants’ assumptions related to the dialogue topic to grow a greater sense of community.
What is the required time commitment for a seven-week dialogue?
Sessions are held at the same time once a week for two and a half hours over a seven-week period beginning usually a month into the semester and ending before finals. Participants are required to attend all seven sessions. We hope that all dialogue participants come to understand the difference between dialogue and debate and enter their dialogue group willing to share information about themselves and listen to others with an open mind.
That sounds like a lot! What if I can’t make a meeting?
It might sound like a lot at first, but we’ve found that around the 6th week participants are asking for more! We tried to make it longer, but with finals and other stress, we figured we’d make it easier on you. Attendance in DDG is VERY important. Without you, the group cannot bond together. Maybe you miss a week, and that was a session where someone shared a very personal experience. If you return the next week, you have no knowledge of that story, and nothing to reflect upon with the rest of the group. If you absolutely cannot make a session due to illness, please email your facilitator ASAP.
What are the benefits of participating?
The whole structure of DDG is designed around giving the participants the most benefit by exploring a topic or identity that you might have never had the chance to do so before. Also, in the large campus community, it is easy to feel alone. In dialogue, you can meet new people whom you would have never met in your daily routine, and find some ideas or activities you may have in common. Participating in a dialogue group also can provide you with concrete skills. Businesses these days highly value employees who have experience in cross-cultural and diverse environments – DDG provides that. Businesses want employees who have a greater awareness of themselves and are able to articulate themselves well – all skills you can gain through dialoguing. In addition, it is often desirable to have the skill of being able to handle sensitive topics and situations of conflict well. In dialogue, alternative views will arise that you may have not expected, and you will learn how to communicate effectively in these situations. DDG is a great way to enhance your conflict resolution skills and develop professionally in a supportive network.
I had a great experience participating in my seven-week dialogue group. How can I get more involved in DDG?
After participating in a group, there are many ways to get involved. First, you can apply to facilitate your own dialogue group. This means free training in dialogue facilitation, as well as the opportunity to work with a faculty advisor experienced in dialogue processes. DDG offers a free training to facilitators at the beginning of each semester. Also, the DDG advisory council is always looking for motivated and enthusiastic student leaders to serve in a variety of leadership roles. If you're interested in serving as a DDG leader, learn more here.
What else does the Dialogue Development Group consist of other than seven-week dialogue groups?
DDG is eager to support students researching dialogue. Our board is happy to arrange up a consulting appointment to see how we can help. In the past, DDG has offered voluntary consulting services to both undergraduate and graduate research papers. DDG also has planned shorter dialogues, such as a two-week Jewish-Muslim dialogue, as well as one-time community dialogues, such as an intergenerational dialogue held in 2011.
How can faculty use dialogue to enhance student learning?
Several faculty members have successfully incorporated dialogue into their course syllabi thus adding a rich experiential component to their courses. Typically, faculty have tied between 15% and 30% of their students' grades to dialogue participation, depending on the course and related assignments or have used participation in a dialogue group for extra credit. Assignments have included journaling and research papers tying course content to the dialogue experience. Attendance is taken by the facilitators and reported to the instructors who have students participating in the dialogues. If you would like more information or ideas on how to incorporate dialogue into a course, please contact Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can also provide examples of how professors have included a DDG component on their syllabi - just send us an email.
I am not affiliated with American University, but I am interested in being involved with DDG; is this possible?
While the AU community is our primary focus, we can usually accommodate interested outsiders. However, AU students and alumni will be given priority placement in our dialogue groups. If you are not an AU student but are interested in participating in a dialogue group, please email us at email@example.com. DDG hopes to expand our services in the future, so if your organization would like to learn more about our programs, please contact us to discuss how we might collaborate.
How was the Dialogue Development Group started?
Founded in 2006, DDG is an outgrowth of Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer’s class Dialogue: Approaches and Applications. Students were motivated by their experience to find ways to engage the wider university community on the issues of race, privilege and other sources of division and alienation through meaningful dialogue. DDG also represented an effort to revive a dialogue initiative of Professor Abu-Nimer’s and the Center for Global Peace from 2004.
In fall 2006, with the support of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program (IPCR) faculty and director, as well as student groups (CPI, SPCR, and SEPGA) a pilot program to engage AU students in dialogue on social identities, differences, inequalities and social change in both local and international contexts was initiated.
A dialogue component was introduced into five IPCR courses and one General Education course. Students enrolled in these courses were given the option of fulfilling part of their course requirements through participation in a sustained dialogue on a variety of topics including: Ethnic and Cultural Diversity; Gender Relations; U.S. – Middle East/Islamic Relations. 41 students participated in four dialogue groups facilitated by trained graduate students under the supervision of Professors Ron Fisher and Mohammed Abu-Nimer.
Since then, the popularity of DDG has been growing each semester. In 2010 DDG became an established institution in the Office of Campus Life and will continue to expand its programming and collaboration with other AU entities, most notably the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (established in 2012).