After a well deserved Fall Break, I had the opportunity to sit and chat with the lovely Emma Samatas on Friday of week one. She talked about Sustained Dialogue, one of the organizations with a large presence on campus, especially during Symposium Day. Emma is a junior from Elmwood Park, Illinois who is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Her involvement on campus includes being the president of Sustained Dialogue, being a part of the Augustana Peer Mentor program, and tutoring at the Reading and Writing Center.
What is Sustained Dialogue?
Sustained Dialogue, an international program with its headquarters in DC, is an on-going process over a term where small groups strive to change the campus climate by improving strained relationships through dialogue and collective action. Our weekly dialogue groups of 8-15 participants (including students, faculty, staff, and administrators) and 2 trained co-moderators create a space to address divisive issues on campus. We define dialogue as listening deeply enough to be changed by what you learn. This can be challenging as participants are asked to listen deeply and ultimately reach an understanding of the problems on campus and the power they have to address them.
Why did you decide to join Sustained Dialogue?
What I liked about Sustained Dialogue is that it’s a place where you can talk with people from other areas on campus. What I found most attractive about this program is the fact that you can create an action plan. It is not just talking about what you think is important, instead you are able to create a more inclusive environment on campus.
What is the most important lesson you have learned being a member of Sustained Dialogue?
One of the most important things that people should gain from Sustained Dialogue is listening to understand and not to respond. Dialogue is described as listening to what people say, unlike a discussion which is considered a debate. I have been a moderator and a participant, as a well as president of Sustained Dialogue. As a moderator, you are supposed to ask questions and if people say something you ask a question to get to the root causes. It is like an iceberg, rather than saying “you’re wrong” or disagreeing right away, you learn to ask questions and learn why people think they do in order to come up with an agreement. Basically, it teaches people how to respect each other based on their different backgrounds because people are talking from experience.
Why do you think people should consider joining Sustained Dialogue?
Because we talk about a lot of issues that are relevant to campus and in any area of life. I love the fact that Augustana is a liberal arts college, so you learn from different fields and you are able to use what you learn to apply it to your discipline. The things that we talk about in Sustained Dialogue are called the “Big 8 Identities”: race and color, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sex and gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, mental health, and disability. Everyone has many of these identities and I think anyone, regardless of the field they decide to go in, will benefit from this because it’s learning how to dialogue with people who disagree with you. A lot of the times, people just like to argue which is not professional and also does not help us to make progress.