An Update on Dialogue Across Difference

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,As I wrote earlier this week, this is a moment where we are called on to affirm our commitment to Columbia’s educational mission. Even in times of tension, the productive and thoughtful dialogues that take place countless times each day across our campuses nurture the learning that flourishes here. I know that so many of you are eager for opportunities to dive into, and wrestle with, difficult topics with your peers, colleagues, and friends. One effort we have launched in service of this is the Dialogue Across Difference initiative, which provides students, faculty, and staff opportunities to confront and engage with contentious ideas and diverse perspectives, and resources and tools to navigate challenging conversations. This initiative reflects our commitment to fostering an inclusive, resilient community of learners where debates are rooted in rigor and civil discourse and where freedom of expression thrives in an environment of mutual respect.Dialogue Across Difference (or DxD) follows Columbia’s rich tradition as a vibrant intellectual community engaging with, and advancing our understanding of, the most pressing questions confronting us, and touches on the concerns of every one of our schools. The DxD initiative has three core components: 

events and programming 
professional development and learning opportunities for faculty and staff, and 
seed grant funding programs for faculty, staff, and students. 
I invite you to participate in programs and to apply for support for your own projects that will advance constructive dialogue.

Featured Programming

The spring semester will see a broad array of events and programs held across our campus, many of which are open to all Columbians.  Yesterday, Columbia College, Columbia Engineering and Columbia General Studies students gathered to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy at an event featuring readings and performances from undergraduate students. Taking Dr. King’s final book — Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? — as its inspiration, this event marked the beginning of a semester-long initiative focused on the shared responsibility to foster an inclusive community, engage in deep listening and robust debate, and practice civic engagement through service.On January 26, SIPA’s Institute of Global Politics holds a conversation on “What’s Next for the Middle East?” Two experts involved in previous rounds of the peace process from different perspectives will share their insights and bring context to the ongoing conflict in the region and prospects for peace.On February 15, University Life and the Columbia Journalism School will co-host a signature Awakening Our Democracy event, “What’s At Stake In These Polarized Times.” Join a panel of experts to explore how current events and the often binary discussions that surround them inform our understanding of democracy and the possibilities for overcoming polarization and strengthening civic engagement. On February 20, Columbia Engineering and the Knight First Amendment Institute are co-hosting a symposium with panels of multidisciplinary experts that will debate artificial intelligence and its impact on the future of public discourse, free expression, and democracy.These are just some of the compelling discussions that will be taking place. Across our campuses this semester, schools from Social Work to Public Health to GSAPP will be hosting important conversations in partnership with the DxD initiative.

Learning and Development Opportunities

Faculty. We are dedicated to enhancing faculty skills for managing differing viewpoints on sensitive and challenging subjects in the classroom and beyond. The Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and the Center for Teaching and Learning will sponsor new faculty professional development dialogues. The first two are:

Having Difficult ConversationsFriday, January 26, 2024, 12:30-2pm | 203 Butler LibraryLed by Professor Beth Fisher-Yoshida, program director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program in the School of Professional Studies.Employing Empathetic Objectivity in the ClassroomThursday, February 22, 2024, 12:30-2pm | 203 Butler LibraryLed by Professors Ari Goldman and Gregory Khalil of the Columbia Journalism School.These programs complement other recently-developed faculty workshops and resources of the CTL, including “Navigating Heated, Offensive, and Tense Moments in the Classroom,” and “Teaching in Times of Stress.”Staff. Building on the outstanding work that our student affairs staff do to foster community, and support students on a daily basis, we have partnered with an expert outside organization to provide professional development to schools’ student-facing staff. This skills training covers navigating differences and deploying de-escalation techniques, as well as addressing the impact of the conflict in Israel and Gaza on our campus. An initial cohort of staff has begun this work, which will help them lead programs and guide their staff during times of conflict. 

Seed Grants

Seed grant funding programs will support the creation of organic partnerships and collaborations and will empower faculty, students, and staff to create new spaces for critical conversation. Faculty and Staff. The Office of the Provost has issued a call for proposals to fund programming; proposals must be led by full-time faculty members and can include administrators as partners on projects. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2024.Students. The Office of University Life is scheduled to launch a mini-grant program for students; details of the program and opportunities to apply will be shared in February. Students enrolled in any of Columbia’s 17 schools may apply for grants of up to $1500. Eligible projects will be led by students and must be open to all students from across the University. Projects should provide tools, frameworks, or models that promote constructive dialogue across difference.We will continue to keep you updated on new Dialogue Across Difference programming through announcements and the DxD website, as we affirm our commitment to a Columbia that is a vibrant and welcoming home to open debate and exchange. Warmly,DennisDennis A. Mitchell, DDS, MPH (he/him)Interim ProvostProfessor of Dental Medicine at CUMC

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