Students hold conversation workshops…

…on respecful dialogue

Shortly after 10:30 the night of Sunday, Sept. 9, a “Vote No” poster hanging in an apartment window was vandalized on the Gustavus campus. “Vote No” has been the slogan adopted by those in opposition to the newly proposed marriage amendment that will appear on the ballot this upcoming November. The incident stunned and shocked the victims of the vandalism because it seemed out of character for a community with a reputation for warmth and friendliness.

“It was very rude, and I was surprised it would happen at Gustavus because we’re such a welcoming community,” one of the students whose poster was targeted said.

Senior Political Science major Eric Halvorson has reason to comment on the vandalism as well. After an internship this summer with Minnesotans United for All Families—a coalition opposed to the marriage amendment—Halvorson took it upon himself to bring the core message of the program to the Gustavus community in the form of Conversation Workshops.

“By refocusing a political issue on the personal issue that it really is, Conversation Workshops focus on engaging citizens in respectful discussion,” Halvorson said.

His response to the incident was disappointment in an opportunity lost for this type of respectful interaction. “This is hurtful to people on any side of the issue. It is not respectful, constructive dialogue,” he said.

Conversation Workshops strive to provide a place to practice the type of dialogue that surrounds this highly emotionally-charged issue in a safe space that involves both role-playing and discussion. Their focus is on the importance of marriage and the human element involved in a personal issue that has become politicized.

“We talk about big ideas but forget to share our stories, stories of hurt, personal stories,” Halvorson said.

November is near, voting day is closing in, and Halvorson believes it is important that students start talking now.

“Bumper stickers can’t vote and neither can lawn signs. We need to engage Minnesotans in conversation,” Halvorson said

A recent attendee of one of Halvorson’s Conversation Workshops, Senior Philosophy major Dan Burnett believed that the workshop was very valuable to him despite his extensive knowledge of the new marriage amendment because it was more than a mere educational lecture. Dealing mostly with discussion techniques and reflection upon values and each other’s experiences, the workshop was very interactive in nature.

“One of the things Eric helped us through was really actively listening to what others have to say because their opinion is valuable in and of itself,” Burnett said.

A foundation for the Conversation Workshops is the importance of sharing stories that give dimension to the larger conversation and help frame it in terms of how the decision affects people’s lives on a personal level. Burnett found this to be a crucial element that Halvorson successfully integrated into the Workshops.

“He also really emphasized the value of story. Freedoms and rights are really abstract concepts, but they are grounded in stories and human lives. If we deny other people rights, we hurt them and re-write their story in a way that denies them happiness,” Burnett said.

Halvorson has two more workshops planned to take place before Election Day. The workshops will be held Wednesday, Sept. 26 and Monday, Oct. 1 from 7-8:30 p.m. in Old Main 04. For anyone who is interested in receiving more information or getting updates on the Conversation Workshops or Minnesotans United for All Families should contact Halvorson at