This course includes weekly peer dialogue sessions held every Friday. Each session will be led by two student Dialogue Facilitators (DFs) who have previously taken the course.
Dialogue sessions are not traditional “TA sessions” that try to clarify material presented in class. The goal of the DF, rather, is to create a shared space of trust that fosters good-natured discussion and debate, initially through unthreatening “icebreaker” exercises and the establishment of conversational norms generated collaboratively by the students in a section, and later branching out into dialogue-building exercises that engage with class content. The balance of these may vary from section to section, but the focus of the model is to overcome barriers to trust, mutual understanding, community, and participation by cultivating skills of open-mindedness and curiosity, an awareness of areas of commonality as well as disagreement, an appreciation for intellectual diversity, and the ability to be charitable while critical.
This year we have a recent Wesleyan graduate and former student, Tessa Ury, organizing and training our team of DFs. She describes the purpose of peer dialogue as follows:
Students yearn for an education that involves a type of engagement that is both reflective and communal. The idea behind Dialogue Facilitation is to give students opportunities to discover together the ways in which what they’re learning in class applies to their own lives. When learning about Stoicism, we learn that the Stoics stressed the importance of focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you cannot. Perhaps a student in their dialogue session will talk about how to apply this idea when they’re feeling stressed about schoolwork or dealing with a significant other or family member. When students are provided the space with other students to talk about what living a good life means to them, they can reflect on their own experiences, who they are, and who they want to be. And ultimately, through the bonds they make, they can help each other lead better lives. This is important because it’s a form of education rooted not just in theory but in who we are as people, how we can put theoretical ideas into practice, and how to do the best we can for ourselves and others.
The relationship between regular class sessions and peer dialogue sessions mimics the relationship between individual and communal reflection. Regular class sessions tend to give students opportunities for individual reflection through lectures and discussion that doesn’t involve a significant amount of interaction with other students. Dialogue sessions give space for communal reflection through conversation, games, and other activities that revolve around interpersonal engagement. People need to reflect both on their own and with others to fully evaluate their lives. The combination of these two types of reflection promotes shifts in perspective that come from listening to others’ experiences and beliefs, as well as from looking inward.
All the dialogue sessions in this course have the following aims:
- Students reflect on what they’re learning both as individuals and in a group community.
- Students feel part of a supportive environment in which they build connections with others and ultimately care about one another.
- Students feel seen as individuals within the group. Each student feels they have a voice that can be heard.
- Students feel part of something bigger than themselves and share a sense of camaraderie with each other.
- Students strive to understand each others’ perspectives and learn from one another.
- Students have fun together and look forward to each dialogue session.
For a list of our DFs this semester and the sections they’re leading, see here.