To cultivate healthy relationships, we use communication to create a safe and aware environment for all involved. Without communication, we wouldn’t exist in the communities that provide us with support and validation. A “good talk” with people we are in relationship with can be an anchor to preventing power imbalances, misunderstanding, and potential harm. The SNF Paideia designated course “Good Talk: The Purpose, Practice, and Representation of Dialogue Across Difference” led by Dr. Sarah Ropp, SNF Paideia and Andrea Mitchell Center Postdoctoral Fellow, instructs students on how communication can bridge the gaps of difference in our communities.
EXPLORING DIALOGUE THROUGH THREE LENSES
“Good Talk” is an exploration of dialogue across difference through three lenses: theoretical, practical, and representational. Cultivating an inclusive and informative space, the course “exposes students to a diverse range of ideas and narratives related to dialogue.” Integrating theory and practice, by the end of the course students, “develop and practice their own working theory and model of dialogue relevant to their values and goals, and meaningful to the kinds of work you are most invested in doing.” As it goes within any community, and especially academia, engaging in discourse that presents a variety of narratives and angles on a topic contributes to cultivating an inclusive and informative space.
GOALS OF THE COURSE GOOD TALK
Commenting on what excites her about the course, Sarah responds, “I think that the main goals of the course — develop critical awareness of positionality and privilege; learn skills for engaging with texts and other people both critically and compassionately; consciously align one’s communication to personal values and purpose; and so on — are really important skills for intellectual and scholarly development, regardless of one’s academic discipline. I think a course dedicated to dialogue skills is as necessary for holistic academic success and fulfillment as a research methods course or an academic writing course. But I also believe that the course has value in and of itself as a rare space for deep reflection and sharing to make meaning of past and present in community with others.” “Good Talk” provides students with an opportunity to learn from different communities with each other.
For the course, Sarah utilizes a variety of curricular and extracurricular practices to facilitate understanding. Reflecting on her motivation to develop the course Sarah says, “This course was a dream come true for me. After researching and practicing a variety of dialogue models and reading a lot of diverse dialogic theory, I wanted to create a course where, instead of prescribing a singular model or approach to dialogue, students could explore and experiment with dialogue in multiple modes and formats, in order to work towards their own ideas of what dialogue is, what its purpose should be, and how to do it effectively.” Sheila Hodges, C’24, a student in the course reflects on why she enrolled in the course, “I’ve always wanted to take an SNF Paideia Course. They seem so innovative compared to traditional classes. I specifically wanted to take this class because it aligns well with my intents of using the media to communicate with different groups.” The desire to try a nontraditional course as a leading factor for signing up for “Good Talk” was corroborated amongst most of the students in the course.
ALOK VAID-MENON’S PERFORMANCE AS AN EXAMPLE OF DIALOGUE
With funding from the SNF Paideia program, students were able to attend a performance by American writer, poet, and comedian Alok Vaid-Menon. Alok’s oratorial style invokes stand-up comedy, meets slam poetry, meets your favorite lecturer. The performance itself was a display of the power of communication and performance as both informative and emotionally evocative. After witnessing the performance, Khanh Linh Do, C’23, remarks, “The testimony was very powerful to me because I didn’t know that anyone in any situation can use testimony so their voice can be heard.” Sharing what aspects of the course resonate with her the most, Lotus Kaufman, C’24, adds, “…the whole process of learning how to build rapport and make people feel comfortable and construct an efficient and purposeful dialogue. Thinking about purpose has been very insightful for me.” Students from “Good Talk” engaged in rhetoric and dialogue that presented them with life skills that will benefit them outside of the classroom.
STUDENTS REFLECT ON GOOD TALK
Speaking on what aspects of the course she believes attracts students, Sarah says, “I’ve taught Good Talk twice now, and the comment students make over and over is, ‘I’ve never taken a course like this before.’ While that probably means something a bit different to each of them, when students write their final reflection papers about the course, some of the unique aspects of the course that they commonly express really appreciating include: the sense of community and connectedness to others the course fosters; the way the course engages their emotional and spiritual selves, in addition to their intellectual and pragmatic selves; and the diverse set of narratives, representations, and media that we explore in the course.” When asked what she values most about Sarah’s teaching style, Rafaella Lambrinos, C’26, shares, “I appreciate how much Dr. Ropp tries, plus succeeds, to make the class a safe, inclusive space for everyone. I feel like the material we cover and the way we learn it not only makes us better students, but also better people.” Adding to that, Jeffrey Fishman, C’23, remarks “I love that Sarah leaves a ton of course space for open discussion. The conversations in this class were some of my most interesting during my time at Penn.”
DIALOGUE ACROSS DIFFERENCES
Dialogue is one of the four pillars of the SNF Paideia Program. The program espouses the power of communication, within and outside of academia, as conducive to cultivating a just society for all. Dialogue across differences is pertinent to bridging individual and community understanding and well-being. When asked why they would recommend the course to fellow Penn students, SNF Paideia fellow Thomas Kyong, C’23, says, “…very insightful class that is relevant to any student from all schools.” Sophia Feldman, C’25, adds “It has been my favorite course I have taken at Penn so far. You will learn a lot about yourself, others, and how to be a better team player in conversations.” Check out other SNF Paideia designated courses on our website for more information.