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Workshop in May will help facilitate difficult dialogues

UNG will host an interactive Engaging Difficult Dialogues workshop May 11-15.

It can be hard for university faculty, staff and students to engage in discussions about important yet sensitive issues such as gender, race, politics or religion.  

An interactive Engaging Difficult Dialogues workshop set for May 11-15 seeks to give University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty and staff the tools to facilitate engagement and learning when such topics arise. Funded by a Presidential Innovation Incentive Award and faculty development funding from the provost's office, the event will center on the text "Start Talking: A Handbook for Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education."

The workshop has room for 25 faculty and 10 staff, with applications open through April 6. Applicants will be notified by April 20. Faculty participants will receive a stipend.

UNG's program will feature its own faculty and staff members leading sessions on the work started by the Ford Foundation and now organized by the Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center. UNG's Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion office, Dean of Students office, General Counsel's office, and various faculty members have led the efforts to bring the program to UNG.

"The Engaging Difficult Dialogues workshop is important because as educators, we have to prepare our students to critically engage with the world around them," said Dr. Kelly McFaden, associate professor of social foundations of education and coordinator of the College of Education's International and Global Programs. "The workshop is designed to help participants feel more confident in initiating challenging discussions and managing spontaneous debates in educational spaces through theoretical and practical exercises, pedagogy development, and modeling of best practice."

Dr. Pablo Mendoza, UNG's director of diversity and inclusion, said the workshop is for "anyone who has ever had a difficult moment in a classroom setting."

"Once you've been trained with this material, you don't wonder what you're supposed to do," Mendoza said. "You're able to approach it in a methodical manner."

Jenna Colvin, general counsel for UNG, said the old axiom of not talking about sensitive issues can shortchange students.

"When individuals don't talk about controversial topics, they can lose the tools to have persuasive, formative, learning conversations," Colvin said. "If they're not hearing or discussing or engaging with a broad range of perspectives, then they may not have a full understanding of a challenging issue."

Participants will be asked to develop plans to share the lessons they learn with their UNG colleagues.

Dr. Alyson Paul, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students on UNG's Gainesville Campus, looks forward to the discussions the workshop will start.

"Students sometimes come to the university unprepared to experience a true marketplace of ideas, especially when confronted with issues that challenge their identities and beliefs related to politics, religion, race, culture, and gender identity," Paul said. "Faculty and staff who are able to provide opportunities and spaces for students to explore these difficult conversations can make a significant impact on students' ability to exercise critical thinking, including considering diverse perspectives. Fostering learning in this way is a great example of preparing students to lead wherever they are."

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