Dialogue in Higher Education


If we think of “conviction” as adherence to our core values and “humility” as openness to critique, engagement, and curiosity, we know that the pairing of these two notions is the answer to the polarization we see pervading every level of our society.

John Sarrouf, Director of Program Development, Essential Partners


Can we make space in the classroom for students to develop convictions—identify what they believe, understand why they believe it, and become willing to share it—while simultaneously inviting them to hold those convictions with humility—an openness, curiosity, and willingness to listen to others?

In 2017, Essential Partners received a grant from the University of Connecticut to shift classroom cultures toward more open, curious, and intellectually humble modes of dialogue. The grant funded a two-year project to develop, test, and disseminate new methodology directed towards that goal, led by Essential Partners and academic partners from Tufts University, Southern Methodist University, Bridgewater College, and Gordon College.

Dialogue in the classroom has already been shown to deepen learning, improve student retention, and strengthen interpersonal connections. It can also help students strike the crucial balance between humility and conviction, a balance that serves as a foundation not only to intellectual rigor but also for the health of a diverse free society.

"One thing I’ve noticed in using dialogue," said principal investigator Jill DeTemple, "is that students often know that they have a position about something, but they don’t always know why. Dialogues help them articulate their convictions, even as they develop skills in listening to and considering positions that may differ from their own."

Want to use dialogue in your classroom? Contact us to learn how.



Read more about the project

Interview with Jill DeTemple of Southern Methodist University

Bring Essential Partners to your campus

Interview with Jennifer West of Gordon College



Bridgewater College (VA)

Gordon College (MA)

Southern Methodist University (TX)

Tufts University (MA)