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As we move into the holiday season break, I hope everyone can find an opportunity for the meaningful dialogue which enriches the human connections from which real understanding arises.

On Dec. 7th, the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students hosted a panel conversation on engaging across difference in the post-election era. The diverse MSU panel of Jeanne Gazel, Kieran Todd, Donna Rich Kaplowitz, Kyle Kissinger, anchored and moderated by Jasmine Lee, did a great job of modeling meaningful, empathetic, and respectful conversation across difference – demonstrating the kind of dialogue necessary in order for a university like MSU to truly be a “marketplace of ideas.”

Alex Lange, and the organizers from the MSU LGBT center, emphasized the need for a framework for civil conversations, including the need for:

·       Adventurous Civility

·       Words That Matter

·       Patience

·       Hospitality

·       Generous Listening

The civil conversations project, from which these goals are taken, strives to be a “resource for healing our fractured civic spaces.” Our MSU campus is a civic space, and the learning that is the essential mission of an institution of higher education can only occur if our spaces are truly welcoming and inclusive – not fractured and divisive. As the panel showed, applying this framework can allow for meaningful dialogue across difference.

Before applying this framework, however, each of us first needs to answer a simple question: What is the purpose of dialogue? If the only purpose is to convince our interlocutor of our point of view, we will fail. We are emotional beings who think – not thinking beings who feel. Reason and “facts” will not alone persuade anyone, especially if they don’t “feel” correct based upon one’s lived experience.

Instead, the primary purpose of meaningful dialogue is to make a human connection and to understand what the world feels like for another person. Only if we take the time and effort to do this, can we come to a mutual understanding of the problems we face – to dialogue across difference.

As we move into the holiday season break, I hope everyone can find an opportunity for the meaningful dialogue which enriches the human connections from which real understanding arises. Best wishes for the holidays and the coming New Year.


Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome: email sekhar@msu.edu.

R. Sekhar Chivukula is the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University.