Sustained Dialogue promotes positive discussion

Sustained Dialogue SD is an action plan that consists of a five-stage process founded by Dr. Hal Saunders, and was newly launched at St. Olaf as a site for students, staff and faculty to meet and exchange ideas for a better environment on campus.

This program sprouted from the conflict resolution methodology of senior Middle East diplomat Saunders, a key drafter of the Camp David Peace Accords. His observation of the evolution of relationships and personal growth through negotiation inspired him to launch the Sustained Dialogue in the hope of improving the way people converse with one another other.

On a campus level, SD aims to promote communications between students and faculty in order alleviate sensitive campus issues. Dialogue groups will consist of eight to15 people who are deeply concerned with the welfare of St. Olaf, and hope to improve the environment for the community as a whole. These groups will meet throughout the spring semester to share stories and together acquire an action plan that will create positive change on campus.

Through the exchange of stories and ideas, people will enhance their communication skills and their relationships with one another, and together effectively solve the problems that their peers find most alarming. SD aims to achieve more than just raise awareness; it gives the participants wider perspectives of issues on campus and instills stronger incentives to work toward the solutions.

Five stages are set to ensure that the program acquires its goal. The first stage is the “Who,” in which the moderators and organizers gather people from different backgrounds with different interests to form dialogue groups. The second stage is the “What,” in which dialogues are individually based; participants will share and exchange their stories in order to address issues that need be alleviated. Stage three is when participants come to the roots of the problems, analyze the causes and get ready for stage four. Stage four focuses on answering the question “how.” This is the transition from a “dialogue mode” into a “planning mode.” Stage five is when action takes place and the production of the dialogue becomes visible.

The moderators of the dialogue are students and faculty members who are passionate about improving the campus community by facilitating areas for participants to exchange ideas, and direct the dialogue in a way that is most relevant to the goal of the dialogues. Moderators must have gone through 18 hours of training in order to qualify for the positions.

Nathan Detweiler ’16, one of the moderators, expressed his expectation for the dialogue.

“Sustained Dialogue is a different kind of interaction. One not defined so much by selling a position or making a point but rather about coming to a common understanding rooted in respect and cognizance of common humanity. It’s not a silver bullet, but rather like a spider trailing threads across two trees. It builds a structure that can bear the weight of many trials. No single thread defines the structure, but in their entirety, they create relationships that are hard to destroy.”

So far, SD has been warmly welcomed in the St. Olaf community, students and faculty members alike, who appreciate the chance to come together to be heard and to hear others. Change does not happen overnight, but hopefully with time, students will begin taking action to improve the St. Olaf community.