CMU Shows Students How to Navigate Divisive Topics Online, in Person

Religion, the president, and the Mueller Report can all be catalysts for potentially damaging arguments and online fights.

The Mueller report has lots of people talking this week, and Central Michigan University wants to teach their students how to talk through controversial topics respectfully.

Their Intergroup Dialogue Program takes a deeper look at how to handle these kinds of conversations face to face and online.

“Dialogue is extremely important because it forces you to deal with opinions that you normally wouldn’t in your day to day life,” said Michael Ignat, a student facilitator through the Intergroup Dialogue Program. “The number one thing is that social media is not the way to do it.”

Shannon Joliff-Dettore is the co-director of the program and says it’s important to ask yourselves questions before engaging in an argument online.

“I would ask myself what’s the benefit of me doing that? Does this this conversation feel good for me? Do I have the energy to engage in this conversation?” said Joliff-Dettore. “We’re asking you to listen, and we’re asking you to ask questions and show genuine curiosity with someone.”

A big part of the process is separating themselves from the emotional reactions they might have during an argument or conversation about a divisive subject.

The program also teaches PAIRS, a method formulated by Dr. Kathy Obear,

PAIRS stands for Pan, Ask, Interrupt, Relate and Share.

Each word in the acronym can help you have a more meaningful conversation with someone who you disagree with.

Pan: Pan the environment and notice your feelings and those of other people. Gauge what impact your statement makes to the group.

Ask: Ask for more specifics about a person’s comment or behavior. Ask without judgement and seek to understand.

Interrupt: Slow down the conversation if you need to take a step back if things get too heated.

Relate: Show that you’re empathetic to another person and see if your own experiences have common ground with someone else’s.

Share: Disclose stories, examples or feelings you have related to the flow of conversation.

For more information about CMU’s intergroup dialogue program visit