Mae Corley ’25 (DCI Fellow)
As a DCI Fellow this year, I have learned the power of a great facilitator to drive a conversation, play devil’s advocate, and dig deeper within a discussion. Yet, I’ve become much more aware of the informal deliberations that occur right in front of me every day. In those scenarios, an official facilitator is rarely present and conversation management must be controlled and determined by the parties engaged in the deliberation. These conversations may be complex or simple or anywhere in between but deliberation norms are still as important as ever. This sounds straightforward, but these conversations are much more difficult than they seem.
I can vividly remember the most powerful conversations I’ve had with friends, family, and teachers. All of them include a surrender of ego and acceptance that learning is done by listening. These powerful conversations require honesty on a level that can be intimidating. Deliberations like this take hard work and effort. It is difficult to be this vulnerable with people you do not feel comfortable with, and I find myself relying on several friends who have a natural ability to make me feel heard and valued. I strive to be a person who can invite these types of conversations with people I do not know extremely well. DCI has taught me the importance of this skill (which can be developed and practiced) to seek intentional conversations and practice thinking through my actions when engaging with people with other views.
On Davidson’s campus, I often hear students express a desire to have deliberative conversations, but I think many people are forgetting an important step. They are forgetting to first practice deliberative skills that would allow them to have successful informal deliberations every day. They are unaware of how important it is to intentionally manage conversations to keep both parties comfortable and willing to engage respectfully.
So, what should be done? Where is the magical solution which will create incredible deliberative conversations everywhere we turn at Davidson? Well, I think it’s simpler than you would think. I’ve often heard the idea of small acts of kindness. The purpose is to encourage each individual to complete one small act of kindness each day and, compounded together with the actions of the larger community, a huge impact will be felt. I propose the same method for deliberative skills and conversations. If we can challenge our Davidson community to practice deliberation and community engagement similarly then imagine the impact.
Each person can challenge themselves to seek out one intentional, deliberative conversation each day. It could be short – ten minutes (or perhaps longer!) – but engagement with deliberative skills each day makes these conversations and skills easier over time. Ten minutes of practicing intellectual humility, active listening, and thoughtful discussion with another person can encourage the entire campus to pick up these important skills.
Perhaps I’ve oversimplified, but I think the point remains. Informal deliberation is extremely important, but it’s a difficult pursuit. It takes more effort and intentionality than one would expect. Davidson stands to benefit greatly from a community that chooses to engage with each other in deliberative ways and seeks to learn from others. It isn’t easy, but it is extremely important for growth and learning in our Davidson community. It can start with just a few minutes every day!