During Spring 2019’s Sustained Dialogue program, student moderators had the opportunity to lead fellow students in discussions surrounding difficult topics.
Senior political science and French major Amanda Jandernoa of Woodstock, Illinois, said she decided to become a peer moderator after participating in the program through one of her honors courses.
“I thought that the dialogue that was happening was important and that [being a moderator] would make me become a more mature and well-rounded person as well,” Jandernoa said.
Like Jandernoa, junior psychology and criminal justice major Mahoggani Pickett of Springfield, Illinois, and junior studio art major Kylea Perkins of St. Louis, Missouri, also experienced Sustained Dialogue before becoming moderators.
These three moderators’ roles in the program differed greatly from their previous experiences as participants in Sustained Dialogue. Perkins said being a moderator was more about facilitating the dialogues than participating in them.
“As a moderator you have to step back and focus on facilitating the conversation and listening and not putting too much of yourself into the conversation,” Perkins said. “My job is not to sit there and participate, so that’s a different experience.”
Perkins said she saw advantages to using peer moderators. According to Perkins, the Spring 2019 program’s use of peer moderators allowed participants to open up more than they would in a classroom.
“It really just helps level the playing field and get everyone more comfortable when the moderators are students,” Perkins said. “It’s also a great leadership opportunity for those students who are moderators.”
Unlike previous Sustained Dialogue sessions, 2019 participants were divided into groups that met on a weekly basis for a minimum of one hour. Each group focused on a particular topic, such as race and ethnicity, ability, gender and sexual orientation, class, mental health or religion and faith.
Jandernoa said she thought having each group tackle one central topic allowed for greater interest in the program and deeper conversations.
“I thought it was helpful for getting people involved because if people are interested enough in a certain topic, they’ll be more likely to join,” Jandernoa said. “I also felt that it allowed for us to go much deeper into the topic. But, a lot of the groups talked about other topics as well, usually always connecting it back to the main topic.”
Jandernoa and Pickett both led groups surrounding mental health, while Perkins and her group centered around gender and sexual orientation. Through being a moderator, Pickett said she learned how to navigate talking about tough topics.
“Mental health is not always something that is talked about, and when it is talked about it’s kind of hard to start those conversations because they’re not [often] talked about,” Pickett said. “I’ve also learned how to bring those conversations out of other people so that there’s more dialogue.”
Before they were able to lead their groups, the program’s peer moderators went through extensive training. Jandernoa said the training focused on question-phrasing, as well as the moderators familiarizing themselves with their topics.
“We would go through like ‘What are effective ways of wording questions?’ ‘What are ones to actually help people respond so that they aren’t too open-ended or too broad or like create only a yes or no response?’” Jandernoa said. “A lot of the training was also ourselves going through the dialogue of each section and each topic as well so that we were familiar. Also, just training on how to respond to people so that they feel like they’re being heard and understood.”
More information on the Spring 2019 Sustained Dialogue program can be found on Student Affairs’ website.