Voices for Change: Communication solutions for a troubled world

The Arch with early morning sunlight filtering through the trees.

Claire Jordan (ABJ ’18), sswpr@uga.edu

The ability to communicate is an essential skill for social workers, but in recent years the public sphere has become a challenging environment for productive conversation. The pressure and passion behind the countless agendas and ideologies leave little room for listening or for compromise.

In response to this, Anna Scheyett, dean of the School of Social Work, established the Voices for Change Initiative to better prepare students and faculty with effective tools for communication and change.

“One of the things social workers will need, in order to promote peace and justice during these labile times, is the ability to use our voices effectively to address difficult issues,” said Dean Scheyett.

Voices for Change offers a series of lunchtime speakers and events that focus on the various skills social workers need to connect and make change happen. Three events have been held this so far this school year.

Raye Rawls from the Fanning Institute discussed Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD), a science-based communication tool that aims to improve dialogue between polarized groups who consider each other to be “the enemy.” Rawls sparked discussion about incorporating theories from family therapy, appreciative inquiry and neurobiology to create a framework for productive and respectful conversation.

How to Talk to Your Legislator, led by State Representative Spencer Frye, explored the most effective ways to reach out to your representatives. He discussed the pitfalls of jumping on the mass-email train as well as the misconception that legislators are unreachable. “We can’t be experts on everything. All of the input comes from the citizens, so it’s extremely important to get your input on certain issues,” said Frye. He shared that his cell phone number and personal email account are available online, which are his preferred means of communication with his constituents. Faculty and students shared issues they want to see change in including housing, human trafficking and funding for higher education. Frye shared how to contact the right people and committees to be heard on these topics and several others.

John Lash (pictured at top), director of the Georgia Conflict Center, discussed The Basics of Nonviolent Communication. He led the students in several exercises in which they thought critically about their actions, words and reactions. Lash posed the question, “What do you need in your life in order to feel like you are thriving?” to illustrate the nonviolent communication concept of universal human needs. Attendees talked about the importance of emotional literacy in productive communication.

The talks continued on February 28 with How to Give a Ted Talk. TEDxUGA steering committee members Megan Ward, Kate Devlin and Kendall Lake discussed this effective and original way to get a message out to the public.

Maria Varela, photographer and civil rights activist, will take part in the next Voices for Change on Monday, March 19 at 4:30 p.m. in the School of Social Work’s ground floor lounge. Varela is the 2018 Donald L. Hollowell Lecture speaker.

Videos of the talks may be seen at the School of Social Work’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/user/UGASocialWorkSchool. You can also subscribe to the page to be notified when new videos are online.

– Claire Jordan (ABJ ’18)

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