Having empathy and respect for oneself and others when engaging in difficult dialogue is an essential part of peace education. Gandhi emphasized that involving emotions was more transformative than purely intellectual approaches to education. Nonviolent communication (NVC), as developed by Marshall Rosenberg, is a tool for fostering empathy and building connection across difference. Using NVC for difficult conversations in any college classroom is a way of mainstreaming peace education across the curriculum. Though there is literature on difficult conversations in the college classroom, and on the effectiveness of NVC in general and in K-12 classrooms, there is very little on NVC in college spaces, and none on NVC for difficult conversations. In this primarily qualitative study college students were asked to use NVC to discuss controversial nonviolent actions. We found that even when both professor and students were NVC beginners, students were able to use it to discuss polarizing protests in a class with a diversity of views and needs for respect were overwhelmingly met. NVC was also useful for deepening analysis of the effectiveness of nonviolent actions, and could serve as a tool of emotional regulation for nonviolent action, or a modern day sort of purification for satyagraha.

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Sara Koopman is an Assistant Professor at Kent State in the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, which is a living memorial to the students killed by the National Guard on May 4th, 1970. She is a feminist political geographer interested in the socio-spatial aspects of peace, and the ways that both peacebuilding and international solidarity can fall into colonial patterns, which she blogs about at decolonizingsolidarity.blogspot.com. She is particularly interested in how grassroots groups build alternative securities through solidarity, a process she has framed as doing alter-geopolitics. She is currently doing participatory memorial story mapping for reconciliation around the 1970 Kent State shootings at MappingMay4.kent.edu.

Laine Seliga is a fourth-year PhD candidate and instructor in the Department of Political Science at Kent State University. Her doctoral research investigates how gender identities and roles are negotiated and constructed within UN discourse. She is interested in deconstructing existing conceptualizations about gender using feminist post-structural perspectives and exploring alternative constructions that address the need to improve international and national-level responses to post-conflict peacebuilding.


Nonviolent communication, nonviolence, difficult conversations, college classroom, Kent State, scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL)

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