Letter of Intent
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Letter of Intent: 


Students and faculty in the University of Washington's Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) advance systems and technologies for people and communities to create accessible, sustainable, and prosperous futures. In Autumn 2019, HCDE directors embarked on a five-year strategic plan. One strategic goal in this plan is to advance and sustain diversity and equity within our work and across our communities. More specifically, the department seeks to implement new practices for listening to and empowering its faculty, staff, and students, and to implement new practices for improving the diversity and equity of its teaching, learning, and outreach experiences. As staff members and students of HCDE, we propose adopting the Sustained Dialogue program as a HCDE course for students, faculty, and staff. Sustained Dialogue is a method of communicating “peacefully, justly, and productively,” with a particular focus on problems of inequity and oppression within organizations. The Sustained Dialogue Institute offers workshops and training for others to employ this method, and provides many resources for organizations to evaluate the effect of sustained dialogue practices on measurable outcomes. They have implemented courses in other academic institutions such as the University of Alabama, and offer template courses on a variety of subjects related to diversity, equity, and positive communication between peers.

What is the Sustained Dialogue Institute?

Sustained Dialogue (SD) is an intentional process used by citizens around the world to transform relationships and implement sustainable change in intergroup conflicts, especially intergroup identity clashes. It is rooted in the conflict resolution methodology developed by Dr. Hal Saunders, a senior U.S. diplomat and founder of the Sustained Dialogue Institute (SDI). Through Sustained Dialogue high impact experiences, participants develop a diverse set of leadership skills, including strong personal identity awareness, knowledge of social justice, empathy, facilitation and conflict resolution skills, and more. SD organizers gather participants from diverse backgrounds into small groups that meet regularly to build relationships and develop informed strategies to improve their campus and communities, especially around a number dimensions of identities including: Albelism, Affirmative Action, Ageism, Mental Health, Socioeconomic Status, Sexual Orientation, Race & Color. Sex & Gender, Religion, Ethinicity, Immigration Status, and more. SD is a unique change process which (1) focuses on transforming relationships that cause problems, create conflict, and block change; and (2) emphasizes the importance of effective change over time. Since transforming relationships requires an ongoing effort, SD gradually develops over a five-stage process. This multistage approach serves as a guidepost for SD programs and for those in conflict to create sustainable change in their relationships and communities.


  • The “Who”: Deciding to Engage
  • The “What”: Mapping and Naming
  • The “Why”: Probing Problems and Relationships
  • The “How”: Scenario building
  • The “Now”: Individual and Collective Action

Establishing a partnership with the Sustained Dialogue Institute is the pivotal step towards bringing this impactful program to HCDE. We are seeking to obtain a stand-alone workshop provided by the SDI on Addressing Community Needs Through Sustained Dialogue. This 16 hour training for moderators will equip these individuals with the tools, knowledge, and skills to facilitate, teach, and lead these dynamic workshops throughout the academic year. The training encompasses the capacity for up to 40 individuals to be trained and obtain first hand knowledge from SDI professionals. Once all moderators have been trained, HCDE will provide multiple course sections in the form of seminars weekly each quarter to implement the sustained dialogue process. Measuring impact: We will administer pre-and-post-dialogue quarterly surveys to measure the impact of implementing SD in the department. These surveys will establish a metric of comparison between answers provided at the beginning and end of the year, and will serve to help us better identify departmental needs and critical conversations about diversity and equity in our department. The SDI will also issue a national survey to all partners as well.

A brief overview of questions we will ask in the survey will include:

  1. How did the Sustained Dialogue process help you to navigate conversations between faculty, staff, and amongst other students in the department?
  2. After engaging with the Sustained Dialogue process, what actions will you take to promote inclusivity in the department?
  3. Can you talk about one conversation you had during the Sustained Dialogue workshop? How did your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion shift or expand as a result of these conversations?
  4. Relatedly, what was one overall takeaway that you had from the Sustained Dialogue conversations? How will you incorporate these learnings in your practices as a faculty, staff, or student?
  5. Lastly, how can the Sustained Dialogue conversations be improved in the future? How can we continue to do better?

Intended Student, Faculty, and Staff Learning Outcomes:

  • Think critically about the experiences of others and how they can be improved.
  • Feel comfortable talking about their experiences and identities in front of a group of peers.
  • Try to better understand someone else’s views by imagining how an issue looks from their perspective.
  • Examine strengths and weaknesses of their own views on a topic or issue.
  • Raise awareness about local or campus issues.
  • Resolve conflicts that involve bias, discrimination, and prejudice
  • Explain the college climate towards diversity, issues that arise between students , and why these issues persist.

Topics and goals:

The Sustained Dialogue Institute has developed a variety of structured weekly dialogues on different topics that we can incorporate into our curriculum. We will select which dialogues we would like to include based on the findings of our department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative, which seeks to determine student, staff, and faculty’s DEI needs through activities, training, and policy and culture changes. Based on our initial understanding of the needs of the department, we expect to include dialogues on topics such as sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, classism, and ableism.

These topics align with four of the Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Education (Goal 4), which includes universal access to education.
  2. Gender equality and women’s empowerment (Goal 5). This goal includes increased access to education and economic opportunities.
  3. Reducing inequalities (Goal 15). Under this goal, policies should pay “attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations”.
  4. Peace, justice, and strong institutions (Goal 16). This goal refers to promoting “just, peaceful, and inclusive societies” that use “efficient and transparent regulations”.

We hope that a more inclusive environment in HCDE will lead to “transparent and effective” (Goal 16) policies that “pay attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations” (Goal 15) and a culture that attracts and decrease attrition rates from students from diverse and marginalized populations (Goals 4 & 5). Underrepresented ethnic and racial minority (URM) students (i.e., African American, Hispanic, American Indian, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) comprise only 11% of students in HCDE. While we do not have demographic information, to our knowledge, there are relatively few URM faculty and staff. It is our hope that DEI efforts, such as what we propose here with the Sustained Dialogue Institute, will lead to a more inclusive and diverse department. Thank you for your consideration.

Contact Information
Primary Contact First & Last Name: 
Jay Cunningham
Full Proposal
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