Open dialogue courses available for students

By Diana Blickensderfer

Although unknown to many students, dialogue courses are available at the University and more classes will be offered next semester.

The courses are offered through the department of Educational Organization and Leadership.

Changes for the Spring 2006 semester include the addition of two full semester courses, said Joycelyn Landrum-Brown, coordinator for the Program of Intergroup Relations for the University. In the past, only 8-week courses were offered. Additionally, two new 8-week courses have been added, which include Exploring Whiteness and the Conservative/Liberal dialogue.

“They’re very good courses,” said Howard Schein, director of Unit One learning program. “Every student that I’ve talked to has great reports (on the classes).”

Gail Schnitzer, freshman in LAS, is currently enrolled in the Exploring Sexual Orientation dialogue. The course entails readings before class, journal entries based on the readings and class discussions, she said.

A final paper is also a course requirement, Landrum-Brown said. The dialogues are graded like regular courses and are not merely pass/fail, she said.

Shy students or those who just want to come and listen are not good for the course because a large portion of the grade is participation, Landrum-Brown said.

The courses are mainly to “provide a space to share prospectives,” she said. “By hearing other prospectives, it makes theirs clearer.”

Students often come out of the course with a “better appreciation for cultural differences,” Schein said. Students learn to go past looks and stereotypes and realize similarities between themselves and others different from themselves, Schein said.

“Students are taught to dialogue around a topic,” Landrum-Brown said.

Students also learn the difference between a dialogue and a debate so that feelings aren’t hurt, she said.

“One thing we focus on is understanding and listening,” Brandon Honey said, freshman in Business.

Learning to communicate in these classes is good for students and the experience “really expands your horizons,” Schnitzer said. “It makes you learn why you believe what you believe.”

The courses provide a “safe environment to learn how to come across different issues,” Landrum-Brown said.

Because the courses are handled in this way, no issues have been raised where students feel uncomfortable or not accepted, Schnitzer said.

The class even agrees on a set of rules and the students enforce the rules themselves. If a problem does arise, Honey said, the class deals with the issue right then.

A major benefit of taking a dialogue course is that it prepares students to be able to work in a multicultural working environment, Schein said.

“We’re living in a diverse, global society,” Landrum-Brown said.

The more skills you have to communicate with other people the more marketable skills you have, she said.

Honey enrolled in the Race and Ethnicity dialogue course because he thought it would look good on his residential advisor application. Starting next semester, dialogue courses are required for resident advisors, Landrum-Brown said.

These courses are also unique because an application process is required in order to enroll. The applications are used so that each class has a demographic balance.

Before the application process was implemented, the classes were not diverse enough for a balanced perspective, Landrum-Brown said.

To further gain balance in the courses, Landrum-Brown said multiple instructors are assigned to each dialogue in order to have the different sides represented. For example, in the Exploring Religious Diversity Dialogue, a Christian instructor and a non-Christian instructor would be assigned to run the course.

Of course, the University “can’t get an instructor for every side, but that’s what they strive for,” Landrum-Brown said.

Courses are kept small and are not usually more than 18 students, so not everyone who applies is guaranteed a spot. It is important, therefore, to express on the application a strong interest in the topic and not just the need for an extra class, Landrum-Brown said.

Some classes fill up quickly, she continued, so it is a good idea to apply before the semester is over but the classes stay open until they are balanced or filled.

Some dialogues never get balanced, Landrum-Brown said. The Men and Women dialogue course is particularly hard to fill, she said, because men generally are more uncomfortable communicating their thoughts than the women.

Despite trouble filling certain dialogues, more and more classes are being added to the curriculum.

“The issue of getting along with people different from you is becoming more important,” Schein said.