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Beacon Think Tank Offers Sustained Dialogue in Uncertain Times

Dialogue is a powerful tool for dealing with the confusion and the questions and the need for action that many of us have felt since September 11. Now, in addition to the many forums and discussions offered at the university, there is an opportunity to join small dialogue circles that will meet regularly throughout the winter and into the spring.

The entire university community-staff, faculty, and students-is invited to participate. The groups will be facilitated by faculty and staff who will ensure that the dialogue circles are safe spaces for members to express their questions and thoughts in an atmosphere of respect. The facilitators have come forward from across the university, including the departments of Critical and Creative Thinking and Philosophy, the Health Promotion Program; and the New England Resource Center for Higher Education. Each has proposed a theme or approach as an initial guide for the discussions, but participants will take part in shaping the direction of their group. Here is the list of the dialogue circles, the proposed theme, and the date and time of the first sessions. To reserve a space in one of the groups, email your first and second choices to [email protected]. You will then receive further information, including the location of the sessions.

1) What is patriotism? Is patriotism the answer?

We will explore the meanings we find in the word patriotism and consider the viewpoints of other members of the group who might lend different perspectives from other countries, other points in history, other experiences from our own.

Tuesday, November 13, 10-11:00 am

Larry Blum, Philosophy

2) The meaning of life

A dialogue centered around the wisdom found in the great spiritual traditions, including the Bible and the Koran. We will search together for what these sources can tell us about the meaning of life in these times.

Tuesday, November 13, 1-2:00pm

Allyn Bradford, Critical and Creative Thinking

3) Our sources of strength

We will draw on our spiritual resources and support one another to cope with the stress and anxiety of these times. Sessions might include reflection activities, meditation, and sharing of our faith traditions.

Wednesday November 14, 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Joel Grossman, Health and Wellness Promotion

4) Thinking strategies

The news is full of so much information to process. This group will focus on effective strategies to make sense of the information and fully explore alternatives for choosing how to respond.

Tuesday November 13, 10-11am

Nina Greenwald, Critical and Creative Thinking

Thara Fuller, NERCHE

5) Deep dialogue

Participants will learn and use approaches to dialogue and listening that help them reflect deeply, bring insights to the surface, and take initiative in these confusing times.

Wednesday November 14, 1-2:30

Peter Taylor, Critical and Creative Thinking

The vision of the think tank is to bring people together who might not otherwise meet and support them to learn from each others’ experiences, questions, and insights. “We have an amazing opportunity here at UMass Boston because of our diversity and our intellectual resources,” says Thara Fuller from NERCHE, and one of the group facilitators. “We have people here who have experienced war first-hand and who have studied how to prevent it, people who are scholars of international relations and students who are taking their first political science classes and getting fired up about the issues raised. There are people who are skilled at organizing fundraisers and rallies and people who want to take action but are not sure where to start. Imagine what can happen when you engage all of these people in meaningful dialogue.”

The Beacon Think Tank (BTT) began two years ago as a pilot program to promote shared learning among students, faculty and staff. The sponsors of the program are the Division of Student Affairs and the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE) in the Graduate College of Education. NERCHE convenes think tanks for faculty and administrators from New England colleges.

For the first two years of the BTT, students applied to participate and then the group met monthly with faculty and staff mentors. The discussions dealt with issues centered around social justice and equity. This year, the enormity of the impact from September 11 inspired organizers of the BTT to expand the program and encourage a large and diverse group from throughout the university community to participate. The dialogue circles are for anyone who has questions, curiosity, concerns, and an interest in considering alternative points of view.

William Isaacs, a leader in developing a particular model for dialogue, says in his book Dialogue, “The most important parts of any conversation are those that neither party could have imagined before starting.”