campus partner(s)

College of Saint Benedict/St. John's University






Fresh Thinking

award date


project director

Daniel P. McKanan

College of Saint Benedict/St. John's University

Grant Summary

$91,657 over 18 months. The College of Saint Benedict, in partnership with Saint John’s University, will investigate the topic of controversial conversations in the context of a faith-based, liberal arts college, focusing specifically on conversations about gender. The ability to hold open conversation on a wide variety of topics, even on—especially on—difficult topics is central to a liberal arts education, yet a variety of factors conspire to silence these opportunities that educate our students on important issues. These factors include certain understandings of the Catholic faith tradition, fear of loss of donors and bad publicity, enrollment pressures, and a simple lack of skills for conducting effective conversations. Seeking to address these problems, the college proposes a project focused on conversations around gender-related topics such male and female roles, homosexuality, women priests, abortion, and birth control.

A working group consisting of faculty, students, alumni, administrators and trustees will conduct initial research to bring together scholarship on gender and learning, pedagogical approaches to controversial issues, and scholarship on learning and teaching in Catholic institutions. A campus-wide survey will glean baseline data from faculty, students, and staff about factors that currently shape controversial conversations on campus; faculty-directed student researchers will then develop focused research projects to address issues identified by the survey. The working group’s overall goals are to:

  • Identify two or three especially effective pedagogical strategies for facilitating “civil and courageous” conversations about gender and sexuality;
  • Persuasively analyze how gender shapes such conversation in the context of these colleges;
  • Make informed recommendations for creating a campus culture hospitable to such conversations;
  • Provide a template for future research on the impact of specific factors—religion, class, race, for example—on such conversations.