From Boston— Sustained Dialogue Leadership 2013 Spring Conference at Harvard University!

30 Mar

The following post has been taken from Democracy Fellow  Jeanine Russaw’s blog.

The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network is an organization that “develops everyday leaders who engage differences as strengths to improve campuses workplaces, and communities.” On Friday March 1st through Sunday March 3rd, five CCE (Center for Civic Engagement) working students (including myself) represented Hofstra Unviersity at this event.

The goal of this event was to learn as much as possible about Sustained  Dialogue with the purpose of bringing it back to our own campus and initiate the changes we would like to see.

What actually happened? Just that, and more. The five of us walked away from a weekend of networking with 20 other universities from around the nation (and one from Mexico, but more on that later), and enhanced view of how/why we will implement it at Hofstra.

Now for the most poignant question. What exactly is sustained dialogue? There is a formal definition that can be accessed and assessed by going to the SDCN website (link provided above), however after experiencing various samples of what this network has to offer, I will define it on my own terms.

Sustained Dialogue is about forging and transforming relationships between people of different or seemingly different identities, beliefs, or status for the purpose of garnering understanding or taking action.

Day One.


This is a photo from the very first sustained dialogue in which I participated! The topic of discussion was “The issues of most importance on college campuses nationwide.” The issues focused most from this group were socio-economic status as well as the race/ethnicity barriers that fuel the aforementioned problem. In the end, we discussed ways of facilitating conversations on these issues when returning to our respective campuses. Represented in this picture are Ohio State, Case Western University, University of Alabama, Tecnologico de Monterey— and of course, Hofstra University!


@etanajacobi:”I can’t be an effective leader and motivate others to make a change if I don’t know what motivates me.” #LeadershipConference

— jeanine russaw (@jMarieRussaw) March 2, 2013


These next photos from day one are indicative of the first workshop of the conference: “Leadership Through Storytelling: People, Power, and Change.” In this, we learned the importance of the personal narrative to not only affirm one’s own sense of purpose in the field of Sustained Dialogue, but to the people one is trying to reach get a sense of who they are so they too can open up.


Laure “Voop” de Vulpillieres is the one who facilitated this workshop. She shared her own narrative of why she became involved with Sustained Dialogue, and later we all did the same.

Day two.


The Hofstra Representatives gathered for a group photo before what was sure to be a long day…and it was. A standout of this day were the panel of females representing organizations such as Teach for America, Bloomberg L.P., and the Bridgepan Group (discussing the value of inclusive leadership).


Also a standout, a speaker of the evening Chris Stedman, spoke about the power had to transform his life in terms if his perspectives of people and they way they viewed him. He views Sustained Dialogue not as a way to change people’s thoughts and actions, but as a way to openly communicate with others for the purposes of understanding, education, and tolerance.


With writer/activist Chris Stedman.


An exploratory shot of Boston.

Day three. 

On the third day the conference wrapped up and walked through the next steps for our return to our respective institutions. After a game of “connect” in which we each spoke about what resonated with us that weekend, we got to break out into our our campus groups to discuss our next steps of action and how/why we will take what we learned with us. For Hofstra, we have agreed upon a long term goal of closing the schism between the Hofstra campus and its surrounding community, while addressing concerns of socio-economic gaps and racial divides as possible causes. However, we have also come to the understanding that this will only be possible if we receive “buy in” from our own school, so we will first make a change at Hofstra by hearing the opinion of students and faculty.


During this time, we got to network with Harvard senior, Ekene Agu. The night before she was announced the winner of the Sustained Dialogue Essay Competition— her work to be featured in the Huffington Post very soon! After sharing our plans for our own campus, she shared with us her plans to use her economics degree and understanding of sustained dialogue when returning to North Africa (where she originally from) with the hopes of improving its international standing.


So…what did resonate with me?  Well, everything really. An important part for me was the identifying of my own goals; my own mission statement through the telling of a personal narrative. Why do you really want to be involved with sustained dialogue? Once a person knows that, everything else comes naturally. Even more pivotal was hearing the thoughts and future actions of those I met at this conference. These two items combined placed this trip into perspective for me, and this is something we can all hopefully take from this experience as we return to our perspective schools— the journey is far from complete, but I can’t wait for what’s next.


In closing…

This conference has been very informative and provided me with great clarity on the types of actions I would like to take and the differences I would like to see. Thank you to Mike and CCE, Etana, Blaine, Sean, and Mike for allowing me to take this journey with you.

If you are still unsure about Sustained Dialogue, feel free to visit their website:


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