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Program aims to ‘sustain dialogue’

Julia Miller-Lemon | Thursday, January 29, 2004

Students gathered Wednesday night in the Coleman Morse Lounge to attend the first of two information sessions on Sustained Dialogue, a movement sweeping across college campuses throughout the nation.

During the session, the more than 30 students in attendance were briefed on the mission of Sustained Dialogue, and the open sharing of personal stories touched on many sensitive issues present within the Notre Dame community.

A main purpose of Sustained Dialogue is to encourage discussion surrounding such controversial issues on campus as diversity, religion and gender, but co-founders Tessa Garcia, Eve Thomas and Jelani McEwen-Torrence, (the fourth co-founder, Christine Amill, is currently abroad), said the main goal of the program is to provide an open forum where students are free to talk about any and all issues, not just race or diversity.

Sustained Dialogue is set up to bridge the University’s already-existing retreats and seminars. McEwan-Torrence expressed frustration about the retreats, saying they are beneficial but usually never result in any motion or change.

“With Sustained Dialogue, the issues won’t just be talked about once,” she said. “You will get to talk about them over and over … and work to eradicate stereotypes.”

Garcia initially had the idea to bring Sustained Dialogue to Notre Dame after attending the “Learning To Talk About Race” retreat last year.

“After the retreat, I was moved by the experience and felt that everyone on campus needed to go through something similar,” Garcia said.

After being given a grant through Notre Dame’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, Garcia spent last summer doing research at Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and the University of California at Berkley. Garcia found the program she was looking for at both Princeton and UVA, where Sustained Dialogue had already achieved club status.

Her research then led her to Washington, D.C., where she spoke with the founder of the Sustained Dialogue methodology, Harold Saunders, a Princeton alumnus and former U.S. diplomat.

Work on Notre Dame’s own Sustained Dialogue program began at the beginning of the fall semester, and now Garcia, Thomas, and McEwen-Torrence are working to spread the importance of campus-wide participation.

“In order for these dialogues to work, we need everyone’s perspectives and stories, no matter what their race, religion, gender or political background,” Garcia said. “This is all about openness. There is no fear here, and there will be no judgment.

Following the final information session tonight in the Coleman Morse Lounge from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., there will be an opportunity to sign up for the Kick-Off Retreat on Feb. 7. Attendees of the retreat will be placed in groups, where they will begin discussion on some of Notre Dame’s most controversial topics, as well as share their own personal stories and experiences. After the retreat, the groups will meet twice a month to continue the ongoing dialogue process.

“This is our opportunity to prove that we are ready for a change at Notre Dame,” Thomas said.

Sustained Dialogue began in 1999 at Princeton University and has since become a world-wide movement, not only sprouting up on university campuses but also in countries such as Tajikistan.

For more information on the program or to sign up for the retreat, contact Tessa Garcia at tgarcia1@nd.edu or Eve Thomas at ethomas1@nd.edu.