The event, titled “Compassionate Conversations: Building Skills for Dialogue around Abortion,” was also put on by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia program and the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. PRJ co-founders, College sophomore Annabelle Jin and College junior Neha Shetty, facilitated the event.
The seminar began by setting norms and boundaries for a safe discussion, such as confidentiality, connection-oriented conversation, and lack of political or personal stereotyping. The participants then transitioned to a period of self-reflection on past conversations about abortion and setting personal goals for the event.
SNF Paideia Dialogue Director and Andrea Mitchell Center Postdoctoral Fellow Sarah Ropp, who helped Jin and Shetty plan the event, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that self-reflection was a key focus of the event.
“We [wanted] to focus on self-reflection so people can start unpacking their own biases and assumptions about the ‘other side,’” Ropp said. “An hour-long, one-time event is not going to fix the way that people think about or engage with each other on abortion.”
From there, the conversation moved to skill-building. Participants focused on navigating frequently divisive conversations by acknowledging and validating their counterparts, regardless of their views.
College sophomore and PRJ project lead Paola Naughton attended the event and said that she appreciated its focus on creating a safe space from the outset. It fostered an environment in which everyone wanted to learn and didn’t feel pressured, she added.
The event ended with the audience participating in a role-play activity, in which they read different views on abortion from a variety of lived perspectives. Nuance was especially important to Jin as she developed the roles that people would adopt in their conversations. As she researched different views on abortion, she found a wide variety with far more space for compromise than she had expected.
“These nuanced perspectives … were even more complex than I had imagined. There’s no one stereotype,” she said.
Breaking down stereotypes about ‘the other side’ was central to the conversation. The activities shied away from asking participants to share their own views and instead focused on the skills needed to foster positive discussions in the future.
Jin founded PRJ in response to new threats to reproductive rights after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. She had the idea for the skills-focused clinic after beginning the organization with co-founder Shetty in June 2022.
“I wanted to create a space that allows people to first interrogate their own assumptions and perspectives on this issue, but also to approach conversations with people who might have a different perspective and learn about where they’re coming from,” Jin said.
Jin hopes that anyone looking to improve their conversations about abortion can approach their counterpart from a perspective of genuine curiosity.
Ropp left the event with a feeling of hopefulness about the conversations people can have if they focus on empathy, she said. She added that despite the focus on division we see so often in the world, the event reassured her that most people are searching for ways to connect and find common ground.
“Sometimes in our eagerness and our urgency to get right into the really heavy, important topic, we forget to take a pause and first meet on a plane of shared humanity. Let’s recognize one another as people,” Ropp said.