Dialogue Across Difference: Seed Grant RFP and Faculty Workshops

Dennis Mitchell shares resources and engagement opportunities about the new Dialogue Across Difference initiative.

December 21, 2023

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

As President Shafik and I announced on Wednesday, one effort that we are undertaking to support our community is the recently launched Dialogue Across Difference initiative. Recognizing that freedom of expression thrives within a culture of civility and empathy, the initiative aims to foster a resilient and inclusive community of learners among all who study and work here, strengthen the critical skills necessary to confront challenging viewpoints, and hold difficult conversations with mutual respect.

Several key elements of this initiative support faculty and staff. These include a seed grant program and professional development opportunities.

Seed Grant Call for Proposals

The Office of the Provost invites proposals to fund programming designed to promote Dialogue Across Difference. These awards will support organic efforts by faculty and staff to create new forums and spaces for critical conversation. Projects can provide tools and frameworks to promote constructive dialogue, or convene forums that model dialogue across divergent perspectives. Subjects could include differing perspectives on pressing topics such as freedom of speech, political polarization, or artificial intelligence, among others. The formats of funded projects can vary and could include panels, skills-building workshops, symposia, artistic endeavors, and more.

Proposals must be led by full-time faculty members and may include administrators as collaborative partners. Awards will provide up to $10,000 in funding.

The call for proposals is available online. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2024.

Workshops for Faculty

We are committed to providing resources and support for faculty as they navigate challenging dynamics around discussion both in and out of the classroom. The Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) will host a series of new faculty-led workshops, beginning with two early next semester:

Having Difficult Conversations
Friday, January 26, 2024, 12:30-2 p.m. | 203 Butler Library
Beth Fisher-Yoshida, program director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program in the School of Professional Studies, will lead a faculty workshop offering tools to navigate conflict, especially in times of crisis, as well as broader campus climate dynamics.

Employing Empathetic Objectivity in the Classroom
Thursday, February 22, 2024, 12:30-2 p.m. | 203 Butler Library
Ari Goldman and Gregory Khalil, faculty who co-teach a course at the Journalism School on religion in Israel/Palestine, will share how they employ "empathetic objectivity" to build community and drive pedagogical ends.

These sessions complement other recently-developed resources and workshops hosted by the CTL, including “Navigating Heated, Offensive, and Tense Moments in the Classroom” (next workshop: January 11), and “Teaching in Times of Stress and Challenge.”

We are also providing new resources for staff. As a first step, we have retained an experienced outside organization to provide professional development for schools’ student-facing staff. This partnership aims to strengthen general skills to navigate differences and implement de-escalation techniques, as well as to address the impact of the current conflict on our campus. Last week, an initial cohort began a series of workshops on “Navigating Differences around Polarizing Topics,” which will prepare senior student affairs and diversity officers to lead programs and support students.

The Dialogue Across Difference initiative will also sponsor and support an array of events and programs through the spring semester, including a Week of Dialogue in mid-February featuring events across the University. These panels, conversations, and workshops will tackle contentious, challenging societal issues from multiple viewpoints, provide tools to address obstacles to civic dialogue, and explore potential solutions. I look forward to sharing more details early in the new year.

I wish you a productive end to the fall semester and a restorative holiday season.


Dennis A. Mitchell, DDS, MPH (he/him)
Interim Provost
Professor of Dental Medicine at CUMC