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The Deep Differences Project: Charrette Two — Stories of the Difference a Relationship Makes (and Bridges)

Virtual February 24, 2022 at 3:30 pm ET Public Event

Do you remember that time in college when a professor or classmate knew just what to say and it made all the difference? Or the time that a classmate shared about growing up Muslim in the U.S. and it caused you to reflect on your own religious upbringing? Or the time you went to your professor’s office hours because the course material challenged your personal beliefs, and the professor took the time to engage you in a respectful, enriching dialogue?

For many of us, our most impactful explorations of difference happen organically in relationship with others, and there is no better nor more opportune time for building and exploring these types of relationships than college. Furthermore, mounting research demonstrates the transformative potential and the lasting effect of relationship-rich college experiences. Put simply, intentionally cultivating robust student relationships – with each other, with faculty, with staff – is essential to promoting a campus culture that centers and positively engages diversity. Too often, however, our institutions treat the purposeful fostering of student relationships as prohibitively time-intensive or a “nice to have,” but not essential. 

In this interactive charrette, Drs. Peter Felten (Elon University), Leo Lambert (Elon University), and Marion Larson (Bethel University) will invite participants to share and reflect on their own personal stories of (collegiate) relationships that have shaped how they engage difference.  Drawing from this collective experience, the conversation will transition to co-imagining how to build campus structures – policies, events, programs – that deliberately seed and nurture relational networks that transcend deep difference. 

About the facilitators:

  • Peter Felten headshot

    Peter Felten, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of History, Elon University

    I study teaching, learning, and student experiences in higher education. In 2020, Leo Lambert and I published Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College. I’m a fellow of the Gardner Institute, and co-editor of the International Journal for Academic Development. I attended Catholic schools throughout my childhood. My freshman year at Marquette University, I decided to satisfy a curricular requirement by taking a course that fit my schedule. That course, on liberation theology, exposed me to radically new ways of thinking about religion, justice, and the world. Many of my best friends in college came out of that class, in part because we couldn’t stop talking about what we were learning.

  • Leo M Lambert headshot

    Leo M. Lambert, PhD, President Emeritus and Professor of Education, Elon University

    I served as president of Elon University from 1999-2018 and am currently a professor in the school of education. My recent co-authored books include Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College (Johns Hopkins) and The Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most (Jossey-Bass). I serve on the boards of The Washington Center, the Association of Governing Boards, and the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. n the years following 9/11, the Board of Trustees of Elon University and I had a lot of conversation about the role of higher education in building inter-religious understanding in American society. Elon had already received a major gift from an alumna, Edna Truitt Noiles and her husband Doug, to create the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and we had bigger plans still, thanks to the creativity and foresight of former Chaplain Richard McBride. Trustees then stepped up to fund construction of a new multi-faith center on campus and faculty brainstormed a new Center for Religion, Culture and Society. These events have often caused to me to reflect on how much strong leadership from so many different sectors it takes to create vibrant strong interfaith work on campus.

  • Marion Larson headshot

    Marion Larson, PhD, Professor of English, Bethel University

    I’m Professor of English at Bethel University (MN). I served as the arts and humanities editor for Christian Scholar’s Review, and I’ve focused my recent scholarly work on issues related to interfaith engagement. This has included the book From Bubble to Bridge: Educating Christians for a Multifaith World (co-authored with Sara Shady) as well as several articles and book chapters. Growing up in an evangelical Christian home and educated at Wheaton College (an evangelical school near Chicago), I was accustomed to seeing all other versions of Christianity as inferior and misguided. While working on my PhD at the University of Minnesota, my friendship with a fellow student led me to question this perspective. Laura, a Catholic, had clearly given much thought to her beliefs and took the practice of her faith seriously. Yet unlike me, she wasn’t dismissive of those with whom she might disagree. She helped me see that a person can be devout without judging others. 

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Heterodox events are public conversations among academics and experts on a focused topic that offer an opportunity to showcase our values in action, and provide timely discussion of pressing topics. We are currently hosting regular virtual events in addition to periodic live events. Nearly all events, virtual or live, will be recorded and posted on our YouTube channel following the event.


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