What began as a small program with a single focus on immigrant integration has evolved into an experiential learning program that brings together students, staff and faculty of diverse backgrounds at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“At its core, the Dialogues Program facilitates simultaneously translated conversations in a welcoming space, bringing together domestic and international students, as well as custodial staff, many of whom are immigrants and refugees,” said Karen Ramirez, co-director of the CU Dialogues Program. “In our residence halls, immigrant integration remains the primary focus of Dialogues, allowing students and staff to connect, get to know one another, and begin to understand each other’s cultures.”

She continued, “That said, the program has expanded to provide community dialogues that can be requested by any campus unit, department or student group. The idea is to engage students and CU-affiliated groups in conversations on a range of sometimes-controversial topics across cultural or socioeconomic divides.”

Generally scheduled upon faculty request and featuring an invited guest, these dialogues are intended to complement course material. For example, a dialogue on human migration might include recent immigrants and refugees as guests. Other examples of dialogue topics include communication across social, cultural or political differences; cross-cultural or intra-cultural gender perspectives; and culture-based identity formation.

“The dialogues don’t aim to solve a specific problem or advance a particular agenda, but they do aim to increase understanding through honest communication across social and cultural differences and power differentials,” said Ramirez. “The idea is to focus on a topic that everyone in the room can share a perspective on, from new students to recent immigrants.”

Facilitated dialogues have been held in a number of courses at CU-Boulder, including history, anthropology, sociology, communication, business, women’s studies and film studies. Recently, an economics professor requested a dialogue, encouraging students to explore with international students and immigrant staff questions of economics related to their countries of origin. Meanwhile, in Ramirez’s women’s literature class, students and immigrants get together to discuss gender and culture issues from different perspectives and attitudes.

“Incorporating dialogues into my classes has directly enriched my teaching,” Ramirez said. “I have long believed that stories are the foundation of our lives, and that we understand ourselves through stories. Teaching through dialogue has increased my appreciation for the diversity of relevant stories right around us in our communities, and for the importance of making time to actively listen to one another’s stories.” 

“Students remember the stories they hear in a classroom dialogue. These stories also provide them with a basis for further understanding and remembering other material they are learning in class.  Sharing stories and perspectives from diverse members of the university community also has broad-reaching effects – from creating a more empowered class of students to building community across campus,” Ramirez explained.

By all accounts, the Dialogues Program is a small-classroom initiative with a large impact on engaged learning and critical thinking, breaking down assumptions and barriers, and creating a space for equal sharing and empathetic listening.

For more information, visit www.colorado.edu/cudialogues.


Karen Ramirez



[email protected]