Essential Partners wins major grant from the University of Connecticut to develop dialogue-based teaching methods in university and college classrooms.

February 13, 2017


Monday, February 13, 2017

Media contact: John Sarrouf, Director of Program Development  | 617-923-1216 |

Essential Partners announced that the organization has won a $215,000 grant from the University of Connecticut to shift classroom cultures toward more open, curious, and intellectually humble modes of dialogue. The grant fully funds 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.

This is the largest single grant awarded in the organization’s 27 year history, (both as Essential Partners and as the Public Conversations Project), and represents a major step forward in its efforts to secure new opportunities for the long-term growth and prominence of its mission.

John Sarrouf, Essential Partners’ Director of Program Development, will serve as project lead. He spoke to the importance of this work at this particular time for American civil discourse: "As we look across the country at the state of relationships on campuses and between institutions of higher education and the communities in which they exist — we see a deep need to attend to way we speak to one another and how we hold ourselves and our knowledge as we engage across divides of ideology, identity, and experience. 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."

Through the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Department, the Intellectual Humility in Public Discourse (IHPD) Project is an ongoing effort to promote more ideological open-mindedness, empathy, and connectivity in academic discourse. The IHPD project began as an effort to investigate fresh alternatives to teaching models and classroom discussion that can lead to closed-mindedness, elitism, and intellectual stagnation. The focus of IHPD is instead to cultivate rich deliberation, genuine curiosity, and the ability to empathize with others — without necessarily endorsing or refuting their views outright.

Research from earlier cycles of the IHPD initiative has established the importance of humility for classroom cultures in higher education by creating rigorous, thriving academic cultures. Yet practical questions remain as to institutions might translate these findings into actionable methods for the classroom.

Essential Partners’ contribution to this initiative, titled “The Dialogic Classroom: Teaching for Humility and Civic Engagement,” will bring to bear its 27 years as a leader in the field of dialogue and deliberation, conducting focused research into best practices for fostering humility in academic discourse. The organization will then test and promote new methodologies for instructors to cultivate humility, openness, curiosity, and engagement in the classroom.

The Dialogic Classroom team includes six other co-principal investigators, all renowned professors from a range of varied fields and institutions. These principal partners are: 

  • Dr. Jill DeTemple (Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University)
  • Dr. Jonathan Garlick (Tissue Engineering and Stem Cell Biology, Tufts University)
  • Dr. Harriett Hayes (Sociology, Bridgewater College)
  • Dr. Margie Deweese-Boyd (Social Work, Gordon College)
  • Dr. Ian Deweese-Boyd (Philosophy, Gordon College)
  • Dr. Lauren Barthold (Philosophy, Independent Senior Researcher)

The project began work in January 2017 and is expected to continue for two years, culminating in:

  • A comprehensive study of best practices for the promotion of intellectual humility in classroom settings
  • A research-based training for faculty to transform lecture-based norms of academic discourse toward more open dialogue and deliberation
  • A critical evaluation of the effectiveness of new methodologies
  • Widespread dissemination of our findings and training plans, including an online hub for resources made available through an extension of Essential Partners’ website,

To read about the IHPD project in full, or about our specific grant, please visit

About Essential Partners

Difficult conversations — about the issues that matter most — are too often avoided or approached with fear. When the same unproductive debates emerge, in which no one feels heard or valued, many people can come to believe that engaging with difference will threaten the stability of their community. Even when people do engage with difference, they often retreat further into what they know and understand; communities devolve into silence, heated disagreement, or sometimes even violent conflict. In this stalemate, everyone loses the richest, most essential parts of living and working in diverse and pluralistic communities.

Essential Partners has worked for more than 27 years to facilitate conversations and equip people to use our approach to dialogue. We bring a method that is applicable and adaptable in a wide variety of contexts. Reflective Structured Dialogue relies on preparation, structure, questions, facilitation, and reflection to enable people to harness their capacity to have the conversations they need to have. We offer training, facilitation, and consultation — all aimed to equip communities to have the conversations about what is most essential in order to move forward and find new ways of being together.

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186 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Suite 212, Cambridge MA 02138
186 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Suite 212, Cambridge MA 02138
186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 212, Cambridge, MA 02138
186 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Suite 212, Cambridge MA 02138
186 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Suite 212, Cambridge MA 02138