Increased endurance in difficult dialogues, a professor of user interface rewarded for his research

Seeking to increase productivity in diversity, equity, and inclusion dialogues, University of Iowa professor Sherry Watt has been honored for faculty excellence by the Board of Regents.


Sherry Watt is one of six University of Iowa faculty honored with state council of regents for his outstanding contributions and sustained record of excellence in his work.

Watt is a professor in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies at UI. Watt and the other award recipients were selected by committees appointed by UI Shared Governance in conjunction with the UI administration.

A UI faculty member since 2000, Watt and his Multicultural Initiative Consortium—a research team of graduate students, alumni, staff, and UI faculty—research how communities can participate more productively in dialogues about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Watt’s research focuses on the Theory of beingdescribed as a transformative learning theory aimed at increasing participants’ endurance for difficult dialogues, including anti-racism conversations.

She said the research began as an empirical study analyzing how people engage in difficult dialogues and developed an instrument to measure the defensive reactions that result from those dialogues.

The research then evolved to look at practices that enable productive engagement in difficult conversations through “ways of being,” such as aligning one’s thoughts, feelings and actions, said Watt.

“It’s the process of doing that around controversial issues that we pay attention to, and then the theory that we have helps you put them into practice or highlight practices that help you participate or build the stamina to stay in those conversations, using those different ways of being, Watt said.

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Milad Mohebali, a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education and student affairs program, said society has become increasingly polarized, causing people to take sides on sociopolitical issues.

The research team is constantly rethinking the theory of being as the climate of society changes, Mohebali said.

“The theory has increasingly evolved in terms of creating humanizing spaces where we can learn together and from our differences, rather than creating divisive environments where people have to take sides, and no learning comes from that dialogue. “, says Mohebali.

Watt’s research emphasizes a process-oriented approach, meaning it focuses on the process of creating change, rather than the potential outcomes. This allows research to stop rushing to solutions, to avoid creating superficial fixes and additional problems.

Instead of engaging in purely theoretical research, Watt said she and her team aim to research and put the work into practice simultaneously.

“Our research is closely aligned with our practice, and our practice teaches people ways to be, how to develop that stamina, and how to apply it relevantly not just process-oriented, but persistently in their own work,” Watt mentioned. .

Duhita Mahatmya, associate research assistant at the College of Education, said the research the team engages in is a cycle of research action and learning.

She said actions have been implemented in partnership with departments on campus to create conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion work and to facilitate more transformative change for organizations, as well as in communities. other areas.

“So that’s where we’ve done it: at the classroom level, within the college through anti-racism collaboration, and then through partnerships across the university, as well as partnerships with organizations at non-profit or states,” Mahatmya said.

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