Patrick Henry Georgetown laugh

Students hang out and laugh during a meeting at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville. From left, Julie Menz, Kate Oelkers, Kara Brown, Danielle Ford and Jackson Dalman. Students from Georgetown University and Patrick Henry are participating in an experiment and play to gain insight and understanding of their varied backgrounds.

In a basement meeting room that doubles as a chapel, 10 college students sit in chairs arranged in a lopsided circle. To look at them, they seem no different from any other group of college friends—snacking on bags of chips, dividing their time between reading papers and joking with each other.

Butthe students come from vastly different worlds. Five are from Georgetown University, a school of 7,000 students with 59 percent identifying as Democrat, according to a 2016 survey. The other five come from Patrick Henry College, a conservative Christian college with a student body of less than 450 in Purcellville. 

For the past school year, these 10 students have been discovering just how much they share. And on a Saturday morning in western Loudoun County, they’re putting together a play based on each other’s life experiences.

“In Your Shoes” is the brainchild of Georgetown professors Daniel Brumberg, director of the M.A. program in Democracy and Governance Studies, and Derek Goldman, a theater professor and co-director of the school’s Laboratory of Global Performance and Politics.

The program is meant to be both a play and a project. At the end of this semester, students will perform a show based on their conversations for residents of Loudoun County and Washington, D.C. The greater purpose of “In Your Shoes,” though, is to help students develop empathy for people who many not believe like them.

“We are trying to see how to facilitate a dialogue in a world that is very polarized,” Goldman said. Both Goldman and Brumberg noticed as political conversations on the national stage grew more vitriolic, their students needed an opportunity to discuss deeper issues in a non-threatening arena.

The professors reached out to Dr. Cory Grewell, a PHC professor of literature, because it was geographically close and has a different political climate. Grewell immediately grasped the program’s potential.

“When you have to sit down and talk to someone, you have to acknowledge that they are a human being,” Grewell said. “Affirming another person’s humanity, listening with empathy and interest, considering carefully how our words will sound in another person’s mind—these used to be things that were subconscious in human interaction, and we’ve lost them. What we’re doing provides a model for restoring them to human conversation.”

***

Georgetown student Kate Oelkers thought she might need to act buttoned-up for her first visit to PHC last fall. An exuberant theatre major, Oelkers said she didn’t necessarily have preconceived notions about PHC students but nonetheless felt nervous meeting them.

“I thought it would get much more contentious than it has,” she said. “[But] in this group I really do feel that I can be uninhibited.”

Both semesters, she’s been paired with a PHC student she meets regularly over video chat. The professors provide a few basic questions around a theme like home or faith, but the students are encouraged to let their talks flow naturally. Afterwards, each student selects a small part of their conversation and transcribes their partner’s dialogue word-for-word, including “ums” and other filler words. During meetings, Oelkers and her partner perform each other’s monologues for the group. The students often find it touching to hear their words in another person’s mouth.

This semester, Oelker’s partner is PHC senior Daniel Cochrane, a political theory major. A philosophical and forceful speaker with a background in high school debate, Cochrane appreciates how “In Your Shoes” has encouraged him to really listen.

“In debate, you listen to respond … [With “In Your Shoes”], you really are forced to think carefully about what others say,” Cochrane said. “We have common fears, common desires.”

***

Georgetown Patrick Henry experience Goldman

Georgetown professor Derek Goldman instructs Georgetown student Andrew Tyrrell and Patrick Henry College student Hope Sluka after a monologue reading.

Goldman isn’t sure exactly what form the final play will take, partly because much of the result will be up to the students and their stories.

Goldman and Grewell will host public performances at both colleges – at Georgetown on April 25 and at PHC on April 27, exact time to be determined.

Goldman hopes that, with this year’s success, he can continue the program into another school year—if not spread the idea to other schools.

“The bonds that these young people are building is quite wonderful to watch,” he said.

Back at rehearsal, PHC student Kara Brown and Georgetown student Julie Menz alternate reading each other’s monologues. At face value, the stories seem starkly different. Brown tells how Menz grew disenchanted with Christianity while sitting in church. Menz reads about how Brown, still a devoted Christian, grew up in a Messianic Jewish congregation even though her family isn’t Jewish.

Goldman tells the girls to read the monologues again. This time, he snaps his fingers every few seconds, and the girls switch off reading so quickly that their monologues almost sound like one story. Woven together, the two experiences seem strikingly similar—both are grateful for what faith taught them, but both feel at least somewhat uncomfortable with the churches in which they grew up.

Silence reigns after the reading as students and professors try to hold onto the unexpected beauty of the moment. Then, they applaud.

(24) comments

5tephen4llen

There is an important principle here. Civil discourse today is often very quickly reduced to trying to shut the mouths of those we don't see eye-to-eye with. I think we have much to learn from those with whom we disagree, but those learnings only come when we're not in such a hurry to draw lines in the sand or hang a label on one another.

Globalogicom

Reading these comments seems ironic and proves that the reason behind this 'In Your Shoes' program is so necessary and I applaud both schools for doing this. Why do we all feel a need to auto attack each others group/side and label them all a certain way without getting to know the individuals in that group first? There has been a total breakdown in rational calm political/social conversation from both extremes of the political spectrum. I believe Dr. Grewell from Patrick Henry College summed it up best "This Affirming another person’s humanity, listening with empathy and interest, considering carefully how our words will sound in another person’s mind—these used to be things that were subconscious in human interaction, and we’ve lost them. What we’re doing provides a model for restoring them to human conversation." Wow, what would it be like if we all had empathy....a lot less strife.

doverboy

The headline should read,"One is a prestigious, left-leaning university in D.C. The other is a joke." a College where they forbid the teaching of evolution? didn't I read a book about that when I was in school in the 70's? American institutions unfortunately are being taught by extreme left liberal teachers, many of whom are untouchable because of tenure. But PHC will always remain a joke

Loudoun4Trump

"left leaning"...please, these are leftists that want socialism and free stuff without having to work for it....

workhardgetahead

Yea, just like Amerigirl.

amerigirl

"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth." - Abraham Lincoln

workhardgetahead

Unless taken over by Socialist Communist.

LoudounMarine

*Georgetown academic depts. cosponsor anti-Trump event
*Georgetown Students get credit for attending anti-Trump teach-in
*Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson recently suggested that white people should open up “individual reparations accounts” to literally pay back African Americans for slavery.
*A former Georgetown professor and Muslim-American woman was verbally berated and told to “f*** off” by an old colleague for publicly expressing her support for President-elect Donald Trump.
*A professor at Georgetown University organized his students to sign a petition and participate in a protest against Myron Ebell, Donald Trump’s expected pick to lead the EPA.

workhardgetahead

The Jesuits who founded GU wouldn't let Michael Eric Dyson within 500 miles of the University. He is a race baiting bigot.

amerigirl

Since Georgetown is a private school, they are entitled to have opinions and teachings that fall in line with their beliefs regardless of if they are found to be liberal, just as Liberty College can teach its conservative ways. BTW Georgetown's department of government is considered one of the leading programs in political science in the United States, and 12th in private Universities overall.

workhardgetahead

Yeah, but Liberty could beat Georgetown in Football!!! So there!!

LoudounMarine

Here is what GU represents in 2019:
“Look at [this] chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement,” Carol Christine Fair, an associate professor in Georgetown’s Security Studies program, tweeted Saturday. “All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

loudouncommonsense

AMERIGIRL: Ih the same way that some commenters ignore facts, the rest of us ignore those commenters. I sort of feel sorry for them; every day they must deal with a society that is inexorably changing in ways that cause them unhappiness because they cannot adapt or control what is uncontrollable,..

workhardgetahead

Do you mean the same kind of facts as Jussie Smoolet pushes, or the one fact that your racist governor Northam likes to push by saying he wasnt in that photo. Are those the facts you're talking about? Or how about your Anti Semite Muslim dentist you will.probably vote for on Tuesday? Please elaborate further Loudoun Nonsense

amerigirl

Yes, please.

amerigirl

explain how you can tell who to ignore and who you listen to. I usually fact check anything I question.

amerigirl

and ignore the facts

amerigirl

Are you talking to me? and what are you referring to?

workhardgetahead

A MERRY Girl, Sandra Fluke. Any questions?
Next!

debbbie

Congrats and thank you to the students in this program. A mighty effort toward developing a model for empathy and understanding among people in this polarized country and world. Folks like roundhillguy and worhardgetahead, are folks who could really benefit from models that hopefully you may be able to develop. Thanks so much!
@roundhillguy and workhard.. Your comments are so telling. At least try to be accurate in your comments. note: Georgetown was founded on a core principle of religious pluralism. If you do a quick check, you can find that during the first ten years of the university's existence, at least 20% of the students were non-Jesuit, which is how it was designed. That # has grown as part of the University's continued pluralistic approach. This diversity is a strength as part of developing a person's "whole self" through empathy and understanding/knowledge. And, yes, there are way too many folks throughout the world that take the tribal view. Maybe you can guess where that view leads a person and how it affects all of us?

LoudounPulse

Catholics and Protestants unite under one God, amazing.

RoundHillGuy

headline should read, Students from Jesuit University in DC meet with Christian college in Purcellville. Georgetown was also founded as a religious university. The Students just forgot.

workhardgetahead

Right on Round Hill. The Jesuits who founded Georgetown wouldn't understand why the College turns out little Communist now. Totally lost their way.

amerigirl

I think the Jesuits would be more appalled by your remark, considering the number of vets that attend. They are ranked #5 best college for veterans. They turn out great students, especially in medicine and law. You always have something negative to say but you never back it up. Can you tell us why you think that?

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