Dialogue groups tackle equity, inclusivity at Western
What is the difference between "dialogue" and "discussion," and does this distinction matter?
Carmen Werder, director of the Teaching-Learning Academy at Western Libraries, explains that understanding these different modes of communication is a fundamental part of the TLA.
"Dialogue is collaborative and requires participants to be aware of their assumptions and to arrive at a deeper understanding, which means the emphasis is on opening up the conversation to as many views as possible," Werder said. "People engaged in dialogue try to find a shared connection, and to do this they need to really listen and try to understand."
Learning Commons Coordinator Shevell Thibou has been helping facilitate the TLA since 2012.
"Dialogue consists of asking questions and sharing insight; it’s an exploratory process," she said. "Because dialogue isn’t about being ‘right,’ and because it requires us to suspend judgment and really explore our own assumptions, it can be challenging."
Throughout fall quarter, faculty, staff, community members, and more than 70 students in the TLA participated in a series of dialogues to collectively to identify and formulate this year’s "BIG" question: "How do we move beyond conversation to achieve self-sustaining equity and inclusivity at Western?"
Since the program's inception nearly 16 years ago, participants in the TLA have been meeting regularly to engage in dialogue around a variety of topics related to improving teaching and learning at Western, and this year’s dialogue sessions are significant for a number of reasons. Among them is the alignment of the 2015-2016 "BIG" question with important conversations occurring throughout Western. Werder noted that since she is retiring this year, this question also has special significance to her personally.
"I’ve seen some version of this question come up as long as I have been at Western, but I really feel like we are at an important place with this particular question, this year, right now," said Werder, noting the emergence of this question early in fall quarter.
"The issues of equity and inclusion came up before the unfortunate and disturbing incident that happened just before Thanksgiving, and I think we can really we can use this as a chance to think about how important it is to talk about these things," she said. "And we can also use TLA as a mechanism for connecting people with other broader conversations happening across the university on this topic."
During the first week of winter quarter’s TLA sessions, participants introduced themselves, and spoke about the benefits of engaging in the dialogue groups. They shared what interested them about this year’s “BIG” question, and spoke about what they hoped their work would bring. Jordan Blevins, a TLA student facilitator, talked about how TLA’s “flattened hierarchy” makes it easier for participants to share unique perspectives.
"We all want to participate," Blevins said. "We all want to have our voices heard. TLA is our opportunity to do that. This is a great time and an open space, where everyone is welcome."
Hoping to arrive at some sort of shared definition which would aid them in the exploration of the "BIG" question, participants broke out into groups to try to define the terms "equity" and "inclusivity" before returning to the larger group to share their results.
Many common themes and questions emerged, such as: "What is fairness?" and "What is difference?" Equity, equality and privilege were each considered and explored. Some participants noted out how every person brings a different perspective to conceptualizing each of these words, and while "diversity" is not explicitly stated in the "BIG" question, it is implicit in each of these considerations.
Werder pointed out that when engaging in dialogue and discussion, often it is through asking questions rather than thinking we have the answers that we are able to arrive closer to understanding the complexities of these words.
"What is inclusivity? Is it a ‘welcoming’? Is it an attitude? Is it a set of practices? Is it recognizing and appreciating differences? And what does ‘recognizing differences’ mean?" asked Werder.
While the TLA dialogue sessions for this quarter began Jan. 13 and 14, it’s not too late to get involved. As part of their work this quarter, the TLA will host focus groups from noon to 1 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Learning Commons to explore the questions that must be answered in order to achieve self-sustaining equity and inclusivity at Western.
You can also still join a regular TLA session for this quarter. The TLA meets every other week for a total of five meetings for the quarter, and there are four group options:
- Wednesdays from noon to 1:20 p.m. (Jan 13, 27; Feb 10, 24; Mar 9)
- Wednesdays from 2 to 3:20 p.m. (Jan 13, 27; Feb 10, 24; Mar 9)
- Thursdays from noon to 1:20 p.m. (Jan 14, 28; Feb 11, 25; Mar 10)
- Thursdays from 2 to 3:20 p.m. (Jan 14, 28; Feb 11, 25; Mar 10)
While the sessions run for approximately 80 minutes, attendees are welcome to stop by based on their availability. All dialogue groups meet in the Learning Commons in Wilson 2 West. Students can also participate for Communication practicum credit. If you are interested in learning more about the TLA, or to sign up for a dialogue session, email TLA@wwu.edu.
The Teaching-Learning Academy at Western Libraries is a Learning Commons partners and the central forum for the scholarship of teaching and learning at Western Washington University. Engaged in studying the intersections between teaching and learning, TLA members include faculty, students, administrators, and staff from across the University, as well as several alumni and community members. Grounded in the scholarship of teaching and learning, the TLA's central mission is to create a community of scholars who work together to better understand the existing learning culture, to share that understanding with others, and to enhance the learning environment for everyone.