The events of the last year-plus have prompted many of us to question how our society works and how it is changing. We are becoming aware of new perspectives on many issues—social justice, the political climate and education reform, to name just a few. It’s more important than ever to be open to different points of view, yet we’re seeing people struggling to connect.

In September, we gathered a panel of UBalt-affiliated thought leaders, moderated by University President Kurt Schmoke, for a wide-ranging conversation. We wondered what they are experiencing and how they are helping people communicate more effectively in the classroom, in community organizations, and with friends and family, when so many topics can be difficult to navigate.


Here are a few excerpts from their insightful discussion. 

Alicia Jones McLeod
Alicia Jones McLeod
More than half of the conversation is about you understanding the message that’s being given. Having a lot of these dialogues with people that are not necessarily on the same page as I am, where I’m trying to gain their support or partnership, there’s a lot more said by the pauses than there are by the words. So listening to how they deliver it, watching their body language, those are all really important portions of understanding the full message, instead of just trying to get to your next point. The biggest issue right now, I think, is echo chambers. We have fallen into a place where we don’t get other points of view. When we stop having conversations with people that think differently from us, and we stop inviting them to the conversation, we get to a place where people are missing the skills to talk to people that don’t think like they do.
“The biggest issue right now, I think, is echo chambers. We have fallen into a place where we don’t get other points of view.”
So the number one thing that I ask is, have you met someone today, if you talk to someone today, in your walk of life, whether it was when you got coffee, in a class, or whatever you’re doing, that may have been different than you? If so, try to connect. And that’s a challenge that I try to take up every day. Alicia Jones McLeod is the executive director of Challenging Racism, an organization whose focus is to empower and inspire people to disrupt racism one compassionate conversation at a time. She also founded the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce. She is currently pursuing a UBalt Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in nonprofit management.
Joshua Clark Davis
Joshua Clark Davis
I THINK THE CHALLENGE FOR ME as an historian is really to keep students thinking about the past as deeply relevant to the present. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to bring in elders from social movements. These guest speakers are very eager to speak to young people about what’s going on today. What’s been increasingly apparent to me is that, especially as a white person, racial trauma is something that is very complicated to teach. And it’s very important for me to be sensitive to students who have personally experienced that, in terms of things like the images I show. We still need to find ways to talk about some of the worst things that have happened in this country, but we need to be more aware of how they will affect people differently.
“ Especially as a white person, racial trauma is something that is very complicated to teach.”
Joshua Clark Davis, an associate professor in the Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies, teaches and researches broadly in twentieth-century United States history with a focus on social movements, urban history and African American history. He is an author and contributor to multiple media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, Slate and the PBS News Hour.
Ting Zhang
Ting Zhang
TWO THINGS I LEARNED from working from home are, we need to adapt and we all like to have control. We found in our research that working from home is beneficial to most businesses, and there are industry differences, occupation differences, and more importantly, gender differences. I myself am a working mother, and in the last one-and-a-half years I’m homeschooling my child. I hear similar stories from my students. So, it’s important to give students choices, flexibility and control of their own pace of learning, and to be understanding and listen. Facing the lockdown and online education, communication with students is particularly important. So I check my email very frequently to tell them I am there with them all the time; I think that helps.
“Guided in-class debate is helpful to train critical thinking and motivate students to learn further.”
I feel I’m very lucky to teach economics, because every day we open the newspaper, or just watch the news, and everything is related to economics. I asked every student to submit a short assignment using the economic knowledge they learn to apply it to their real life. In the pandemic there are all kinds of demand and supply shifts and externalities. Everybody has a point of view, often unique, including some fresh views from students with international backgrounds, and it’s very interesting; this kind of guided in-class debate is helpful to train critical thinking and motivate students to learn further. Ting Zhang is an associate professor in the Department of Accounting, Finance, and Economics and an associate director of the Jacob France Institute. Her research interests include entrepreneurship, human capital and workforce development. She has published extensively and her work has been quoted in popular media such as Forbes, Time, and Bloomberg Businessweek.
C. Alan Lyles
C. Alan Lyles
WE NEED TO LOOK PAST WHAT’S ON THE SURFACE. If you look at me, I have five academic degrees. And I’ve also lived in a Baltimore City housing project, struggled in school, was raised by a single mom. So when I talk about public service, it’s in the context of being a beneficiary of the public health system, being a beneficiary of loans and scholarships, being a beneficiary of the teacher who took me aside and mentored me for two years. I’ve found that when I can say more about what my journey has been, I have had individual students and others come up to me and say, that helped me because I know it’s possible.
“Optimism is a choice. So I’m hopeful that what I’m able to share with my students is the arc of an experience.”
Optimism is a choice. So I’m hopeful that what I’m able to share with my students is the arc of an experience, that there will be setbacks and they can be major, there will be things that occur that you are ashamed of having done, or failed at or quit. But if you persist, I think optimism is rewarded. C. Alan Lyles is a professor in both the School of Health and Human Services and the School of Public and International Affairs. His professional interests focus on pharmaceutical economics and health policy and he has published and lectured extensively in the United States and abroad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *