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MU Expands Difficult Dialogues Program to Other Universities

Ford Foundation Grant will allow MU to "Train Trainers"

Sept. 23, 2008

Story Contact:  Jeffrey Beeson, (573) 882-9144,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As college campuses strive to become more diverse in their faculty and student populations, creating an environment where all voices can feel comfortable expressing diverse viewpoints can be difficult. Since 2006, when the University of Missouri received a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Difficult Dialogues Program has received national attention. Based on this success, the Ford Foundation awarded MU an additional $100,000 grant, which will allow MU to expand the program by providing “train-the-trainers” opportunities for many Big 12 and other UM System universities.
Team leaders in the Difficult Dialogues Program, who work to stimulate rigorous intellectual inquiry and to empower faculty, staff and students to express opposing views in the classroom and community, have trained more than 200 faculty and graduate students at MU and other institutions to facilitate the university community in conversation about controversial and diversity issues. In addition to training faculty and students in a classroom setting, MU trainers use interactive theater to illuminate the dynamics of communication, which helps ensure that diverging viewpoints can be heard, understood and examined respectfully and rigorously.

“For students to become thoughtful, responsive citizens in the face of increasing differences, they must develop tools to discuss controversial issues openly and respectfully,” said Roger Worthington, MU’s chief diversity officer. “Faculty must engage students in difficult dialogues on important, divisive issues if free speech and academic freedom are to prevail in a diverse nation.”

As part of the train-the-trainers program, MU will host a summer institute to allow universities to send a team of participants to learn how to implement Difficult Dialogue training through interactive theater, conflict resolution and deliberative dialogue techniques. This will give participants the skills needed to start successful programs at their own institution. 

“We are pleased to continue our investment in the innovative work of the University of Missouri,” said David Chiel, deputy vice president at the Ford Foundation. “MU is demonstrating the controversial issues on campus can be handled thoughtfully and creatively to promote learning and constructive debate among students.”

The grant is part of Ford's Difficult Dialogues initiative, created in response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities. The goal is to help institutions address this challenge through academic and campus programs that enrich learning, encourage new scholarship and engage students and faculty in constructive dialogue about contentious political, religious, racial and cultural issues.