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ND starts dialogue program

Matt Smedberg | Friday, January 16, 2004

The signs began to go up in September: “Had enough talk? Engage in sustained dialogue.” Others asked “What do Princeton and UVA have that Notre Dame doesn’t? Sustained Dialogue.” Students wondered what they might mean. Thursday night, in the Coleman-Morse lounge, they found out.In the course of the town hall meeting commemorating Martin Luther King Jr., Tessa Garcia, student government’s diversity chairperson, stood up to announce the inception of a new initiative called Sustained Dialogue meant to help break down diversity barriers on campus.The program involves small groups of eight to 12 individuals, each of whose background is different. These people will meet twice a month over the course of a semester or year. After agreeing to confidentiality, they will discuss issues surrounding their own experiences with diversity; if all goes according to plan, they will be able to share very personal information so that others can learn to value them and what they stand for.Sustained Dialogue developed out of work done by Harold Saunders, a U.S. diplomat in Tajikistan. He organized meetings of Tajik national officials and used the principles which became the Sustained Dialogue program to help them overcome regional prejudices and differences of outlook. The program is currently run by the International Institute of Sustained Dialogue in Washington, D.C.”If [Saunders] can make dialogue across the world, we can do it across campus,” said Garcia, a junior from Walsh Hall.Student response to the announcement was overwhelmingly positive at the town hall meeting.Chandra Johnson, assistant to the President, cautioned that some in the Notre Dame community might not be so enthusiastic. “There are some on this campus who will abhor the idea of ‘Sustained Dialogue’ because of their idea of the homogeneity which they associate with Notre Dame.”Garcia will be holding information sessions next week for all interested in the program. A kickoff retreat will be held Feb. 7.