MU recently received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to promote civil discourse among students and faculty.
Noor Azizan-Gardner, the grant's co-director, said university officials hope to use the grant to "create a creative, innovative way" for undergraduates to discuss issues such as differences in religion, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation. She also said MU would use the grant to foster academic freedom on campus.
The university applied for the grant after a survey conducted by the Office of the Chancellor found that 39 percent of Middle Eastern students at MU had experienced some sort of harassment, according to information about the grant application provided by MU spokesman Jeff Neu. The grant is part of the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues project.
Azizan-Gardner said she hopes the grant would expand students' perspectives and help them to listen to all sides of an argument in an intellectually rigorous environment. She also said she hopes it would teach students to resolve conflicts before they become legal issues.
Suzanne Burgoyne, one of the grant's administrators, said the university plans to use the funds to promote calm discussion as an alternative to hostility and name-calling.
"There are a lot of issues on which people are very polarized," Burgoyne said.
She said faculty members might feel uncomfortable dealing with these issues in the classroom because the faculty members are not trained in how to treat delicate situations.
Burgoyne said part of the grant money would go to faculty training, which would include an interactive theater program. Participants in the program will be given sample situations similar to those that might arise in the classroom and will learn how best to deal with the situations.
Burgoyne said the idea behind the interactive theater program comes from Bandura's Theory of Self-Efficacy. The theory, developed by Stanford University's Albert Bandura, states that perceived self-efficacy, or belief in one's abilities to affect a situation, comes in part from being placed in situations where success is likely.
Other parts of the grant will be used for conflict resolution, Burgoyne said. She said the grant would pay for peer advisers who would work with Freshman Interest Groups.
The grant also will provide for faculty fellows who will incorporate conflict management "modules" within courses, said Paul Ladehoff, one of the grant's administrators.
The faculty members who agree to steer courses toward discussion about religious, racial or gender issues can become faculty fellows. Faculty fellows will be trained in how to handle the discussions and how best to foster "deliberative dialogue," Ladehoff said.
Burgoyne said the grant also would provide for two campus-wide forums per year.