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Engaging Difficult Dialogues seminar set for spring 2021

UNG will hold an Engaging Difficult Dialogues seminar that meets twice a month during the spring 2021 semester. Applications for the program are open through Dec. 11.

In an increasingly diverse world, multiple viewpoints on controversial topics may converge in classrooms and campus activities. As part of the University of North Georgia's (UNG) ongoing effort to prepare its faculty and staff to lead civil discussions in these settings, UNG will host an Engaging Difficult Dialogues seminar in twice-a-month sessions in spring semester 2021. Applications are open through Dec. 11, and applicants will be notified if they are accepted by Dec. 21.

The program, which is funded through a Presidential Incentive Award, is inspired by the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues Grant/National Center for Difficult Dialogues text "Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education." This program is a collaborative effort through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership, and Division of Student Affairs. Faculty from the College of Education and College of Arts & Letters have also helped organize the seminar.

Originally planned for spring 2020, the program has been reconfigured to deliver two synchronous online sessions per month during spring 2021. University faculty, administrators and guest speakers will share their experiences of handling discussions across the disciplines. Due to the synchronous discussion format, participation is limited. To learn more and apply for the Engaging Difficult Dialogues program, visit the program webpage

"The Engaging Difficult Dialogues seminar is important because as educators, we have to prepare our students to critically engage with the world around them," said Dr. Kelly McFaden, department head and professor of social foundations and leadership education in the College of Education. "The seminar 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."

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.

She noted UNG employees can play a crucial role in bridging this gap.

"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," Paul said. "Fostering learning in this way is a great example of preparing students to lead wherever they are."

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