By Meggie Lasher, DCI Fellow
As a participant in DCI, I was eager to step into the role of facilitator. I had an excellent experience with my past facilitators, Dalton and Steve, and was hopeful about developing my own facilitator persona. The step from participant to facilitator quickly seemed like a leap — the careful consideration and compassion from Dalton and Steve seemed nearly impossible to achieve when I began training.
My initial hurdle as a facilitator wasn’t a surprise to me. I undoubtedly have the gift of gab. I can speak extemporaneously, chat with anyone, and really don’t mind public speaking. Frustratingly, this loquaciousness does not lend well to deliberative space. It may seem contradictory to struggle with talking too much when deliberation requires us to talk to each other. Yet, talking to fill a lull or void quickly felt disruptive during my first deliberation as a facilitator. Instead of validating and demonstrating my own intentional listening, I slipped into wandering with my words.
Looking back, since these sessions are recorded on Zoom, I was not visibly nervous per se, but I looked a little lost. I struggled to really be with the group, to lead and follow each stage of the conversation. I was married to the deliberation guide and hesitated to move from it. I owe much of my growth and ability to reflect to that first group of participants. They helped me de-center myself and talkative nature as the driving outcome for deliberation and showed me how to step back and let things flow.
As Fellows, we have access to others’ tools and opportunities to grow our skills. I especially appreciate the video series Beyond Bigots and Snowflakes. These short videos from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Dr. Ilana Redstone are accessible and informative as we wrestle with the highs and lows present in facilitating difficult conversations. They’re worth the watch! My favorite so far is “The Problem with Telling People to Stay in Their Lane.”
Additionally, we have campus members and outside speakers come to our weekly meetings. Recently, Dr. Daniel Layman from Davidson’s Philosophy Department visited. We talked about how sometimes people present something that sounds awfully close to an argument but when you invite them to distill it in a few words, they wiggle out of it. We also discussed how you don’t have to be “fancy” to participate in discourse, which resonated with me and my value of deliberative spaces aiming for accessibility and approachability.
We also heard from Dr. Leila Brammer, who visited from the University of Chicago during Davidson’s Freedom of Expression Week. I attended her evening lecture, “Revitalizing Public Discourse on Campus and Beyond.” I found her description of how public discourse often tugs people into extremes to be particularly helpful with our hot topics this semester like gun control and abortion policy. She spoke of how even middle school students slip into the polarity; I used her technique of introducing an outside, third perspective to offer a perspective in the middle of the two radical poles in a recent deliberation. I’m looking forward to reading her book chapter about integrating deliberative pedagogy into first-year curricula.
Now in my second semester, I have two groups meeting for two hours. Last-semester me would have croaked! I work with a virtual group that is a mix of alumni and students as well as a special in-person group at a local 55+ active living community. With the tools and confidence I’ve gained, I am a radically different facilitator. I ask deeper questions, connect with participants, and dare I say, have fun? Now I know when I make space and hold it for others, their voices come pouring in.
 Leila R. Brammer. “Deliberative Pedagogy as a Central Tenet: First-Year Students Develop a Course and a Community.” In Deliberative Pedagogy, 51–. Michigan State University Press, 2017.