Georgetown Collaboration Brings Students Together to Discuss Identity and Perspective in the U.S.-China Context

Georgetown Collaboration Brings Students Together to Discuss Identity and Perspective in the U.S.-China Context

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Participants of In Your Shoes gather in a circle for an exercise.

In Your Shoes™ (IYS), a signature approach of the Georgetown University Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics (the Lab), created and developed by Professor Derek Goldman, artistic and executive director of the Lab, employs innovative techniques rooted in theatrical performance, dialogue, and deep listening to bring students from diverse backgrounds into dialogue with one another to promote mutual understanding and empathy. Since 2022, a collaboration with the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues has brought students together to build mutual trust and grapple with differences in personal identities, perspectives, experiences, and nationalities.

Addressing Complex U.S.-China Relations through Dialogue

Amidst international tensions surrounding U.S.-China relations, the Lab and the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue launched In Your Shoes™ – A Project in U.S.-China Student Dialogue through Performance in spring 2022 to engage students holding identities rooted in the United States, China, and third-party contexts in substantive, challenging, and respectful dialogue.

Two cohorts of Georgetown students were selected to participate in the program during spring 2022 and spring 2023. The program applied the Lab’s signature In Your Shoes™ approach, in which pairs of students engage in conversations


based on simple prompts that are recorded, curated, transcribed, and then shared with the group in excerpted form through performance. Prompts such as “home” and “hope” coupled with group exercises built up a foundation of mutual trust amongst participants, who then chose topics to focus on in the latter half of the program, including their experiences of exclusion and stereotyping and how the U.S.-China relationship impacts their communities.

The spring 2023 cohort drew on lessons learned from the success of the spring 2022 pilot that fostered a close community and opened space to discuss Chinese and American cultural convergence, culminating in a scripted final sharing with members of the Georgetown and DC performing arts and policy communities.

How the Open Exchange of Ideas Makes an Impact

Lyndi Tsering (G’23) participated in the program in 2022 and served as a co-facilitator in 2023. The foundation of mutual consent and willingness to have hard conversations enabled participants to build a framework of trust. In her two years with the program, Tsering found that this helped her to address issues head-on with people whom she would never have met otherwise.

“Going into IYS as someone who claims both personal identity in both China and the United States, and who is a minority in both contexts, I found myself apprehensive at entering what I feared would be a space that forced a dichotomy between identities,” she remembered.

I found that the dialogue of IYS fosters engagement between two people rather than binary identities, and taught me to truly listen to and be listened to by others in a way that forces both people to release assumptions."

Tsering also found that throughout the program, participants defined and redefined the relationship between the United States and China. The diversity of lived experiences in each cohort highlighted the fact that nuance is essential to conversations about U.S.-China relations. There were participants with claims to both countries as home, as well as those from neither country whose national politics and personal lives are deeply impacted by the external effects of bilateral tensions.

The Value of Nuance

After the program’s final sharing performance, 2023 cohort participants reflected that In Your Shoes humanized U.S.-China relations and provided a space to develop deep relationships with classmates in a safe space, one where all were open to hearing one another’s opinions and proactively confronting differences. 

Derek Goldman, artistic and executive director and co-founder of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, found it profound and inspiring to witness the depth of the personal relationships formed around the topics addressed.

“It is gratifying to hear that the skills, experiences and relationships they are forming through this process feel so valuable and enduring—and this work is a constant reminder of how much wisdom, beauty, strength, and nuance exists within and among our communities that, due to fear and habit, often goes unexcavated.”

In the fall of 2023, the Lab launched The In Your Shoes ™ Research and Practice Center. For more information on IYS and how you might bring it to your community, visit the project page or contact IYS.

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