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Interview with Karen Bensen on Dialogue

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Conflict Resolution Institute

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By Danyah Al Jadaani, CRI Staff, MA '21.

We asked Prof. Karen Bensen, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Graduate School of Social Work Dual Degree Programs and dialogue coordinator, to talk about dialogue. Prof. Bensen has an extensive background in social justice due to her many years of professional experience as a social worker, school-based counselor, and program director.

Karen Bensen

Prof. Bensen describes dialogue as something that is inherent to who she is as a social worker: she spent 11 years working on the Auraria campus as the director of the LGBT student services office. A part of her job at Auraria was to connect the campus community with the queer community through dialogue. Here at University of Denver, Prof. Bensen organizes events and activities that bring students and faculty together outside of the classroom. Additionally, she started a series of events playing with different dialogue models, picking challenging topics and a subsequent dialogue model for each discussion.

Dialogue is different than a conversation or discussion. It is a way to communicate with each other where both parties are listening closely to one another with the goal to learn where the other person is coming from, to understand their experience, and to recognize how their lived experience shapes and informs their perspectives. The goal is to prioritize your interlocutor rather than prioritize your own thoughts and ideas.

Truly it is active listening rather than active talking. One of the examples of dialogue that Prof. Bensen gives describes her time working in the community with the Women's Collaborative of Colorado. Women of all different social and political divides came together after the last presidential election to see if they could have a facilitated dialogue over three different two-hour sessions. Within these sessions, women focused on how to come to a place of understanding around what could be done to increase equity among women and children in Denver. With a lot of time spent talking about values and what is important to people as individuals, the group realized that, despite their political differences, they shared common values and beliefs.

Prof. Bensen will be offering a course in the next spring quarter called Dialogue Across Differences using the sustained dialogue model that is used here on the University of Denver campus. This is a service learning class, revolving around sustained dialogue style where students are given the opportunity to practice their dialogue skills with other students.