Public dialogue connects students through differences

MSU students from diverse backgrounds met in the SUB Tuesday, March 7 for a public dialogue to share stories of their personal experiences in eight major areas of identity: socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender and sex, ability, religion, age, ethnicity and race.


The goal is primarily “to get [together] students who may not come into contact to highlight the differences that we all have and that we all bring to the university,” Jerico Cummings, Sustained Dialogue student program co-coordinator, said.


Sustained Dialogue is a student-led organization run through the Diversity Awareness Office. It works to build and strengthen relations between diverse groups in a campus setting that may not otherwise interact.


Program coordinators told participants, in dialogue, “No one gives up their identity — they listen deeply enough to be affected by what they hear.” Participants were guided to use “I” statements, speak for oneself, not for a group, and to “listen harder when you disagree.”


Sustained Dialogue is the legacy of the American diplomat Dr. Harold “Hal” Saunders, who was integral in many treaties in the Middle East from the 70s forward.


Saunders developed Sustained Dialogue as a relationship-centered system for transforming troublesome relationships and “emphasizing effective change over time,” according to the Sustained Dialogue Institute website.


It’s been impactful in Cummings’ life, allowing him to meet like-minded individuals. He found that, before engaging with Sustained Dialogue, it was difficult “to have these types of conversations and to be raw and real all the time.”


Montana State students Annie Venters and Jerico Cummings lead the Sustained Dialogue event and guide the students in attendance through activities.
Photos by Megan Fenwick
Montana State student Melodee Wines participates in the sustained dialogue by talking about what she identifies with.
A couple groups at the Sustained Dialogue talk to each other about how their identity has impacted their personal experiences with the identity Race.