Many colleges and organizations are seeking ways to build a culture of inclusion. Loras College answered with DuTalk® in 2009. The overall goal of the program is to provide students, faculty and staff with the skills needed to engage in civil discourse, specifically with regard to discussions of diversity and inclusion. It is also a means of anchoring the College’s shared value of inclusion in everyday behavior, firmly reflecting the first tenet of Loras’ Catholic Identity statement: “We promote an atmosphere of critical inquiry and academic conversation that includes varied voices, past and present, across Catholic and other traditions.” The intention is to provide participants with a method, language and practice in engaging in difficult, but crucial, dialogue.
The program was created and sponsored by Loras College’s Intercultural Programs Office (IPO), which is responsible for developing student programs that promote inclusion. Kristin Andersen-Bricker, Ph.D. (co-chair of the diversity committee) and Gloria Regalbuto Bentley, Ph.D. (vice president of organizational development) worked with the IPO’s staff to design and implement this unique program.
To gain immediate practice, and to put their ability to take part in dialogue rather than debate, participants play a game in groups of five or six with a deck of cards, each of which contains a mini-case study based on issues of diversity and inclusion. Members of the group take turns practicing facilitation skills and engaging in brief, timed conversations.
The program has now been running for two years and the DuTalk cards have taken on a separate life. They are used in training residence hall assistants and in the College’s “Modes of Inquiry” class, which is required for all first year students Recognizing that many higher learning institutions share a desire to promote civil discourse, the College has begun the process of professionally printing and offering the DuTalk® decks for sale.
Bentley presented the program at the Midwest Culturally Inclusive Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville this September and at Dubuque’s “Better Together” Conference on October 27, 2012. Participants in the presentations, including Divine Word Seminary in Epworth, Iowa, the Waukesha County Technical College in Waukesha, Wis., the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., have expressed interest in creating their own programs modeled after DuTalk®.
Bentley visited the University of St. Francis campus on October 26 and trained administrators, faculty, staff and students in the program so they could create their own version of the program, which they have decided to call “FrankChats.” They are quite excited about its alignment with Franciscan values, specifically the admonishment to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Bentley used the DuTALK• card deck to train facilitators. In one session, discussion was energetic in response to a card with the following scenario:
“A member of your athletic team has obviously poor hygiene habits. He never showers after workouts. It’s hard to get near him, but he’s a great athlete and seems to be a pretty good guy. What do you do? What do you say?”
Students in the group decided quickly that the team member should be told and discussion centered on how to tell him. A faculty member in the group who happened to be from a country in Africa, stopped the conversation with the suggestion that perhaps the problem wasn’t with the student, but with our “sensitivity” to natural human scents. He made the point that other cultures don’t share the same sensitivity to these smells as Americans. It was a great example of how individual experiences and identity drive differences in values and beliefs—exactly the kind of conversation that Loras hopes to achieve with the DuTalk® program.