Photo: Brown University

Student-Led Dialogues at Brown University

The Brown University Mediation Project (BUMP) has focused on mediating conflicts between students, such as roommate issues, since the early 1990s. Though the members had significant mediation training, they had low caseloads and saw a stigma on campus around mediation.

"We were looking for another way that we could use our mediation skills,” said BUMP President Jasmyn Samaroo.

With its diverse population of students who are eager to understand one another’s viewpoints and experiences, Brown University was a great fit for the Essential Partners approach to dialogue.

“We saw students interested in dialogue, but we needed to learn the correct protocol for facilitating those discussions so they would be safe and not damaging,” said Samaroo.

The Magic of Dialogue

Essential Partners led dialogue training for 13 members of BUMP in the fall of 2012, providing a theoretical reframing to the mediators, explained Samaroo.

“While mediators are taught to find common ground and commonalities,” she explains, “Essential Partners teaches how to engage differences constructively instead of trying to homogenize. Knowing how to approach people who are different than you and understand their complexities is a really useful tool.”

After the training, BUMP and another student organization, Common Ground, created a panel and breakout dialogues around the American Jewish experience of Israel. Forty students participated in the successful event. Since then, BUMP has led a regular discussion series around divisive or complex issues, using dialogue to explore the topics.

“We’ve done three dialogues using Essential Partners' model and we’ve gotten very good feedback. People were really excited to explore issues that otherwise might have felt scary and painful,” said Samaroo.

Common Ground President Rahel Dette became an active member of BUMP after working with them on an Israeli-Palestinian event. She described students’ reaction to the breakout dialogue sessions as “magical.”

Applying Skills to a Campus Context

Samaroo remarked on the variety of uses and benefits for dialogue on a dynamic campus like Brown University. “Essential Partners helped us apply new skills to our own context. We now have a skill set in our toolbox that allows us to create a consistent safe space across a variety of topics and we’re receiving an exponential amount of support from Essential Partners to pursue different projects,” she added.

According to Dette, “For college campuses, facilitated conversation creates an invaluable opportunity. You go so deep and at the same time be completely honest with strangers. You can get very serious very quickly in a very constructive way.”

“By offering students the tools to design and facilitate dialogue themselves," adds practitioner Natalie Russ, "we are empowering them to build their own conversations about the complex questions and ideas they care about. And those skills will be valuable to their lives, careers, and communities after college, as well.”