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Listening, Learning, Leading: A strategy and series to create opportunities for greater understanding

Moving beyond polarization to build foundations for dialogue

February 6, 2024 — 

Is it even possible to build relationships across politicized divides? What could change if we took time to learn before judging, if we listened to others’ experiences and explanations rather than making assumptions? A new conversation series begins with these questions and will work towards building foundations for understanding and complex dialogue, beyond polarization.

The Listening, Learning, Leading series, organized by the Office of Equity Transformation, launched Feb. 12 with a workshop on Digital Harms: Online Hate and Racism.

Vice-Provost (Equity), Tina Chen explains, “We have heard from members from various communities that UM, as an institution, must do more to foster meaningful relationships that can lead our community to be a place for informed dialogue. As a university, UM must model what it means to move into complexity.”

Chen notes that the university “can and should take a leadership role to establish spaces for active listening and learning without expectation of agreement or resolution.”

The series is intended to “make room for complexity without demands for resolution, to create a forum where compassion and humanity enliven debate within our community,” she adds.

Often that means getting beyond the familiar and comfortable, and actively working to change narratives of divisiveness, while inviting in multiple voices, says Chen. Taking leadership by creating intentional and accountable spaces for listening and learning is important, particularly now; these days the world can feel like a fraught and polarized place, from the troubled microcosms of online hate and echo-chambers to wider global conflicts and strongly held positions and lived experiences that shape how we interact.

“We want to encourage dialogue that reflects on the ways we talk, write, represent, and understand how the world works,” she says.

Learn more about the Office of Equity Transformation.


Building UM community through dialogue

The Listening, Learning, Leading series is one part of a broader strategy that envisions social change based in human dignity and empathy and engages people in the tug and pull of discourse and diverse views. The strategy will include learning workshops on key topics including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as a pilot project for intentional multi-faith relationship-building.

The series brings in a variety of voices and perspectives, sometimes as part of panels and at other times as individual events or workshops. While various lived experiences, viewpoints, and expertise will be presented, we recognize not all viewpoints can be brought forward in one event; nor in one series. This series is intended as a starting point to model how we listen for understanding, learn, and engage – and to set the foundation for the difficult and focused discussions communities are asking for, but that many also feel we cannot yet have.

The series recognizes diversity within communities and does not expect any individual to speak for an entire community. Registration is required for these events — all panelists, participants and audience members will agree to the Community Accountability Guidelines at the time of registration. To ensure a safe space for dialogue, recording of events by attendees will not be permitted.

All events in this series will follow community accountability guidelines, with speakers and audience members agreeing to:

  • Listen for insight
  • Appreciate complexity
  • Engage with respect the viewpoint of the speaker(s)
  • Value dialogue
  • Question for understanding, rather than to confront or challenge
  • Value dialogue
  • Debate ideas not the person
  • Hold human dignity for all
  • Allow speakers to be in spaces of listening and learning with each other and participants
  • Carry this approach with you when you share learnings from the event

Details on upcoming sessions and learning opportunities are available on the Office of Equity Transformation website.

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