Contentious Conversations: How to Connect Across Difference


  Dear alumni community leaders,

The HAA's Anti-racism Working Group (ARWG) continues to source and present programming and materials to support alumni initiatives across the globe. The ARWG endeavors to galvanize the resources of the Harvard alumni family in an effort to end racism in our communities. We hope to advance that mission by empowering Harvard alumni to take up the mantle of allyship in this fight and to engage in meaningful dialog within your communities to oppose systemic racism.


The latest offering deals with 'Contentious Conversations' and is available in a video program led by Professor Tim McCarthy. How to navigate hard conversations, whether they occur at the dinner table, at our places of work, or worshop, is the focus of this best practice learning. The tools we are sharing today can be used to mitigate disruptive behaviors and make our Harvard alumni communities more effective and compassionate places.


Creating meaningful dialog around topics such as racial equity and social justice can feel daunting but is not insurmountable. This is exactly the type of work we want to share broadly in the alumni community in order to provide practical tools for dealing with the work ahead.


The module may be accessed below, or directly on YouTube. Any feedback may be sent to Thank you for all that you do to support Harvard and build effective alumni communities around the world.


Yvonne Osirim AB '01 JD '07 and Paola Peacock SM '06, EdLD '14

ARWG Co-Chairs



Discussion Questions:

  • Think about a contentious encounter you had that did not go well - a heated exchange, a difficult conversation, a conflict with a friend, family member or co-worker. Why did it go badly? What could you - and they - have done differently?

  • Think about a value you hold dear - something you consider to be a "non-negotiable," for which you would be willing to risk personal standing or professional security - and share an experience where you had to defend it against pushback or opposition. How did you communicate your value(s)? What happened when you did? What, if anything, could you do more effectively?

  • Think about an issue or position you disagree with - something you find yourself debating or fighting about with others - and explain the root of you disagreement and/or opposition. Now consider the issue or position from an opposing perspective. What is the most compelling argument in its favor? Is there anything that you would be willing to acknowledge or concede? Why or why not?