By Ashlee Hall, Lifestyles editor
Dr. Sally Hardig and Dr. Sherry Ford from the Communication Studies Department at University of Montevallo started the Falcon Facilitators Program to prepare students to lead forums that mediate and address tough topics across campus and throughout the community.
Several years ago, Hardig and Ford partnered with the city of Montevallo to moderate forums and were introduced to the Davids Matthew Center, which is an organization that brings communities from all across the state together to mediate forums to discuss and debate different topics of those communities’ concerns.
After this experience, the two professors realized the need for mediators who were trained in deliberate and effective communication. This led to a new class in the communication studies department where students would learn how to handle and mediate forums discussing more pressing topics.
The forums are set around a topic and the mediators follow an issue guide that leads their conversation.
“The forums are deliberate and structured so the audience is able to see all sides of the issue,” says Dr. Hardig.
The Falcon Facilitators program kicked off in fall of 2019. Students who were interested in this area of the discipline were invited by Dr. Hardig to take a class called, Social Movement Rhetoric. In the class, students are trained on how to moderate forums, write issue guides and how to communicate effectively.
The class went to the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial, which led students to use the Falcon Facilitators Program to have a discussion about racial issues. The forums were held within the COMS 101 class.
Once the students are trained, they go out into the community, and host their own forums on topics of their choosing. Some of the topics include poverty within the state of Alabama, issues related to race and gender and other social issues. The forums take place on campus, in schools and around the community.
“The goal of the program is to help people practice and learn ways to have conversations that are difficult,” says Dr. Hardig, “for me it is teaching students to be individually confident and competent so that wherever they go, they have a tool they can use.”
This year the Falcon Facilitators Program partnered with the David Matthews Center which allowed for the program to receive a grant. Part of the grant allows for students to intern with the organization and lead initiatives.
The interns can go out on their own to host forums on a topic of their choosing or they can be asked by organizations to facilitate and moderate conversations.
“Whatever the students take from it, they can take to their own communities and be positive and bring people together to have tough conversations,” says Dr. Hardig.