Sustained Dialogue: A new way to talk

Sustained Dialogue hosts college campus workshops across the country to help facilitate difficult conversations. Photo courtesy of The Sustained Dialogue Institute.


Sustained Dialogue is a national organization that will be coming to Butler’s campus from Nov. 14 through Nov. 16 to train interested individuals on how to facilitate conversations around sensitive topics.

The organization strives to foster dialogue and develop constructive ways for individuals to solve conflicts. Additionally, the organization aims to broaden people’s thoughts on controversial issues, with emphasis on issues on college campuses. 

Sustained Dialogue moderators will train interested Butler students, staff and faculty on how to respectfully facilitate difficult conversations. These sessions will run from 4 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 14 and Nov. 15, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 16. The training will be put to practice in dialogue sessions to be held in the spring.

Lisa Brooks, dean of Jordan College of the Arts, suggested and advocates Butler’s need for Sustained Dialogue. 

“Prior to being the dean on JCA, I was the head of our school of music for three years, and during that time some African American students came to me about the racism on our campus,” Brooks said. “One of the students, who was a graduate student, had worked with Sustained Dialogue in his undergraduate student institution and he asked if I had ever considered working with an external organization to help facilitate this.” 

Brooks and Michelle Jarvis, former dean of JCA, initially brought the organization to campus three years ago. But when Brooks became the dean of JCA in November 2017, she realized that she was now in a position to bring Sustained Dialogue back to campus for a more comprehensive session.

“[Getting this organization] was a pricy thing, so when I came back I told the Provost and Frank Ross, vice president of student affairs, that it was gonna cost this much and that we should split the payment,” Brooks said. “So long story short, we paid the fee and filled out the application for them to come to campus.”

Gina Forrest, executive director of diversity, equity and inequality with the division of student affairs, said anyone who receives the training can either become a moderator or learn to facilitate difficult conversations with their peers and families without isolating or hurting people.  

“We aren’t born knowing how to facilitate a conversation, so I think students will benefit from having this training,” Forrest said. “They’re going to be interacting with students that are not like them, and they will eventually enter a workforce of people who are diverse and not like them. So how are they going to thrive in that situation if they don’t have the skills to thrive?” 

After an incident of racism occurred on Butler’s campus last year, Brooks required everyone in JCA to attend sessions to discuss what happened. 

“The feedback I got from [the dialogue sessions] was very positive saying that we need to have more ongoing dialogue about sensitive topics like racism,” Brooks said. 

The point of the Sustained Dialogue training sessions are to help bring awareness about controversial issues and prompt conversation in a sophisticated manner, rather than argumentative. Brooks believes that students and staff of Butler need to receive this training because she knows that students and faculty of color experience racism every day, as Butler is a predominantly white campus.   

“I think that there are people that don’t even know that they are being inappropriate at times and that’s what a lot of students of color will say — that they think that sometimes people just don’t know any better,” Brooks said. “Our colleagues of color appreciate it when we try. It may not be perfect, but they know that we are trying.”

Forrest hopes that Butler will have the opportunity to keep bringing back this organization and train even more individuals every year, so eventually there is a mass movement with people that have this skill.

“The two main things that I want students, or anyone, to get out of this program are empowerment and skill,” Forrest said. “I want them to feel more confident having these conversations, whether that be leading a discussion or just having the skill in their back pocket.” 

Anyone interested in receiving training from Sustained Dialogue can still apply to attend. For more information concerning this program, you can contact