news releases

2006.05.05 > For Immediate Release
contact: Teresa Gleason - University Affairs
phone: 402.554.2762 - email: tmgleason@mail.unomaha.edu

Difficult Dialogues Core Group to Convene May 15

Omaha - Starting Monday, May 15, a core group of University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) faculty, staff and administrators will convene to begin the process of creating opportunities for open, productive dialogues on issues of religion, sexuality and race.

The meeting, which kicks off a weeklong workshop, is part of the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues initiative created in response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities. More than 600 institutions of higher education submitted proposals for programs to encourage dialogue, and UNO was one of 27 to receive funding.

The two-year project at UNO is titled "Breaking Silence: Difficult Dialogues at the University of Nebraska at Omaha." The effort is directed by a team of UNO faculty – Nora Bacon, associate professor in the UNO Department of English; Shereen Bingham, professor in the UNO School of Communication; and Hollis Glaser, associate professor in the UNO School of Communication. Cynthia Robinson-Moore, assistant professor in the UNO School of Communication, is scheduled to join the team when Glaser leaves UNO to assume a new post in New York City at the end of May.

"The Difficult Dialogues program dares each of us at UNO to take a risk," Bingham said. "It invites us to participate in dialogue with others who may think very differently than we do on sensitive and controversial issues, at this moment in history, when our community is divided on issues of race, religion and sexuality. Participating in genuine dialogue on difficult issues requires courage: it opens the possibility of learning something new that might change what we think or who we know ourselves to be."

The Difficult Dialogues core group at UNO includes 20 faculty, 10 staff and three administrators. They represent diverse departments, disciplines and programs whose work is particularly important to creating an inclusive campus, Bacon said.

The weeklong workshop, scheduled for May 15-19 at the William H. and Dorothy Thompson Alumni Center, will be facilitated by Stephen Littlejohn and Leslie Fagre, consultants from the Public Dialogue Consortium and experts in dialogue theory and practice.

Participants will learn to:

- Understand how people construct social realities in communication with others;

- Understand the moral and values basis of difficult issues;

- Identify typical patterns of communication used when encountering contentious, difficult issues and the limitations of these;

- Appreciate dialogue as a form of communication that enables constructive exploration of difficult issues;

- Use a variety of models for dialogue;

- Frame issues and ask questions in a way that makes constructive communication possible;

- Facilitate dialogue, especially in the classroom; and

- Teach dialogue to students.

They then will have the summer to incorporate what they have learned into their plans for teaching or co-curricular activities for the 2006-07 academic year. A core group reunion is set for Aug. 17 at which participants can share their ideas with others.

The core group members and the areas they represent are as follows: Lori Arias, International Studies and Programs; Meredith Bacon, Political Science; Frank Bramlett, English; Mike Carroll, Goodrich Program; Maggie Christensen, English; Kate Clark, Disability Services; Ana Cruz, Communication; Carol Dillon, English; Karen Falconer Al-Hindi, Women's Studies; Carolyn Fiscus, Native American Studies; Jim Freeman, Multicultural Affairs; Farooka Gauhari, Biology; Rita Henry, Student Services; Peggy Jones, Black Studies; Teresa Lamsam, Communication; Kent Lavene, Student Affairs; Sharif Liwaru, Cultural Awareness Programs; Carol Lloyd, Teacher Education; Bonnie O'Connell, Art and Art History; Patty Patton Shearer, Athletics; David Peterson, English; Kathy Pettid, Counseling/University Division; Joe Price, English; Shireen Rajaram, Sociology; Dori Richards, English; Barbara Robins, English; Lisa Sample, Criminal Justice; Thomas Sanchez, Sociology; Connie Sorensen-Birk, Project Achieve; Mary Sweaney, Human Resources; Peter Szto, Social Work; Barb Treadway-Janousek, Student Organizations and Leadership Programs; and Paul Williams, Religion. Sarah Moulton, English, is the project's graduate assistant.

For more information about the Difficult Dialogues initiative at UNO, contact Bacon at 554.3318 or nbacon@mail.unomaha.edu, Bingham at 554.4857 or sbingham@mail.unomaha.edu, and Glaser at 554.4846 or hglaser@mail.unomaha.edu.

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