For as long as I can remember, I have had an innate love for two things (amongst many others, of course): genuine dialogue and compulsively checking my email. Never in my life did I think the two would coincide until one fateful summer morning when I was forwarded an email from a college professor about available internships for an organization called Living Room Conversations.

Intrigued, I clicked the link to the official website and began pouring over all the information I could find. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this nonprofit was exactly what I was looking for. An organization dedicated to “connecting across divides,” an art that we as a nation have ceased to practice? I couldn’t apply fast enough!

My first Living Room Conversation focused on freedom and was filled to the brim with competent, eager interns, all of whom simultaneously intimidated and inspired me by their passion for conversation and eloquence in expressing their thoughts.

I was nervous, and before I even joined the conversation, I found myself in “on mode." These nerves and my facade dissipated rapidly as I grew comfortable with being organic and myself in front of a video screen full of strangers. This is only part of the beauty of Living Room Conversations.

My most impactful moment from Living Room Conversations happened during an online conversation entitled Relationships First, one of the many introductory topics offered. We had been discussing the delicate balance between standing up for what you believe in juxtaposed with acknowledging and respecting the fact that individuals have different viewpoints and belief systems that don’t always have to be challenged. It was during this conversation that one of the members mused that we don’t always need to convince others that we (and our beliefs) are in the right. We don’t always need to be perched on the persuasive defensive lines; it is enough to simply listen, accept that our viewpoints are different, and move on.

This is exactly what Living Room Conversations does, and is yet another part of its beauty.

As someone who spent roughly a quarter of her life’s weekends competitively debating, this was earth-shattering in the best way imaginable. I didn’t have to persuade — actively listening in certain scenarios proves more potent for all parties involved. I have engaged in countless screaming matches with no true resolution; hurt feelings, seemingly irreparable relationships, and disdain for different viewpoints are all that seem to be left from these all-too-often encounters.

Not so with Living Room Conversations. Diversity in every sense of the word is the foundation of which Living Room Conversations thrives; without it, the entire mission purpose would be rendered null and void. As an outspoken young woman, I frequently find myself struggling to have my voice heard rather than dismissed, and with Living Room Conversations, not only am I listened to, I am engaged with, sometimes by people three times my age. This organization has the power to catalyze a sweeping conversational change, and with its active community members, I have full confidence that it will. I am so fortunate to have been a part of such a movement that seems almost radical given the current socio political climate.

I know I will carry the skills, confidence, and hope I have gained from my internship into my future career as a social worker, where I will strive to help diverse people with unique backgrounds. It is because of this organization that I have watched myself mature in how I handle difficult conversations, over the span of just a few months. For me, this is the most important aspect of Living Room Conversations beauty.

Dakota Marlega is sophomore at Ripon College, located in Ripon, WI. Her studies center around communication, theatre, and Spanish; after graduating, she plans on getting her Master's Degree in Social Work. On campus, Dakota interns at the Office of Marketing and Communications, works as a Communication Department assistant, and serves as the Vice President of the RC Democrats. Her interests include acting, running, learning, and engaging in various political events on her campus. Dakota believes genuine conversation to be the foundation with which healthy relationships are fostered.