Step up, step back, respect the silence, assume best intentions; these are the norms that many seasoned participants of Sustained Dialogue at Beloit College have deeply ingrained into their everyday dialogue practices. In addition to teaching participants how to engage in productive and meaningful dialogue on campus, the SD program is presented as one that teaches valuable and transferable dialogue skills which will support individuals in their professional careers out in the ever-ominous “real world.” I had the opportunity to ask a few alumni who have found themselves in the “real world” about the lasting effect Sustained Dialogue has had on them.
“Being abroad means that I have to ‘lean into discomfort’ and reflect critically on my role in Vietnam and the impact I have on others,” says Macy Tran’17. Macy is a Fulbright Scholar teaching English in Vietnam and finding that her identity as a Vietnamese-American woman is complex and not easily defined within a different cultural context. “By engaging with these complexities, I’m recognizing that the SD skills that I learned in the U.S. are not the same SD skills I use in Vietnam, since I don't communicate the same way in different cultural contexts.” SD taught her to not only think about the words she uses but also how she speaks and listens to other people. These skills have been especially important as she continues her incredible work abroad.
Sam Schonberger’16 experienced her shift into the real world when transitioning from student to a staff member at the Office of International Education at Beloit College. SD has helped her to engage in identity-based conversations with co-workers and think about the best ways to support students of all identities as they navigate the process of studying abroad in a new or foreign cultural context. She has learned how to continue to use her dialogue skills in situations that do not have preset group norms and with people who have not had the same experiences with dialogue. “The flow of communication in an SD group, often encouraging participants to become comfortable in silence, rarely exists in real world settings. Instead, learning to embrace how to interject your thoughts in a meeting or conversation is a valuable skill, one easily practiced in classroom discussions.”
Michael Quevedo’15 says Sustained Dialogue has permeated his personal and professional life. He notes that the world is full of conflict and we are very polarized but SD has taught him “how to think about conflict” beyond the idea of winners and losers, right or wrong. Sustained Dialogue teaches compromise and resolution by reframing how conflict is thought about. “That SD process of dialogue, brainstorming, and mutual action helps me think beyond the idea that the only true victory is a total one.” Understanding this helps to move forward through conflict and lead to a form of understanding. For Michael, “SD taught me how to understand people a little better, and how to make myself understood a bit more clearly.”
Emily Evans’14 has been able to use her SD skills in both her professional and personal spheres. Professionally, she says it has strengthened her resume and been an example of her communication skills and dedication to working with individuals from diverse backgrounds. In her personal life, SD has helped “to build stronger relationships with friends and family, to find common ground with strangers, to communicate with co-workers, and to grow as a compassionate, global citizen.” Emily emphasizes the importance of actively listening to the voices of others and recognizes the impact of good dialogue skills in an increasingly scary world.
The “Beloit Bubble” may be ever present, but it is clear that the experiences had on this campus can travel into the far reaches of “the real world.” Where there are people, there are chances for dialogue and opportunities to learn. The stories shared by these four incredible individuals have shown that dialogue can be used to change spaces and build understanding across the rich complexity that is one’s identity. The future classes of graduating Beloiters will be entering a “real world” that is extremely polarized and intolerant of each other. In this “real world,” dialogue skills will be necessary for more than just modes of understanding identity but also creating social change.