What will I learn?


When it comes to difficult conversations around topics such as race, class, privilege, and equity, we all wish for the dialogue to be meaningful—but the reality is that we often get stuck. This class will explore empathy methods and how they can help in these charged, sensitive moments.

When it comes to topics such as race and class, everyone has something to learn. But while we would wish for open and productive conversations, these moments can actually be quite difficult. One person doesn’t see the other’s reality. Views can be polarized, even entrenched. People might say one thing, and act quite differently.

In this pop-out class we will dive into empathy as a way to rethink the way we approach difficult conversations. In design, we value empathy—the ability to see things from another's perspective—as a way to understand people's needs and aspirations, so that we can design with and for them. Empathy is just as powerful when it comes to difficult conversations, as it helps us understand and respect others' perspectives, so that we can engage in a meaningful dialogue.

We’ll begin by building self-awareness around our own identity and biases and understanding our experiences as they relate to diversity, inclusion, and equity. We’ll practice crafting open-ended questions, building rapport, and other techniques for building empathy. We’ll discuss what it means to put ourselves in another’s shoes—with an understanding of the bias that each of us brings. And we’ll head out to put empathy into practice, interviewing fellow students about how they experience difficult conversations. We’ll reflect on a number of dimensions, including what we’ve learned about difficult conversations, and how empathy can apply not only in the design context, but in everyday moments when you feel a sense of “otherness” or see somebody around you who is struggling.

Our goal is for you to leave this weekend empowered to engage in productive conversations with people of different perspectives, even when those conversations may be difficult.

Learn With

Teaching Team

Sally Madsen
Director of Design Strategy, Fidelity Labs

Gigi Kalaher
Head of Design Strategy, Fidelity Labs

Erika Roach
Assistant Director, Stanford Diversity and First-Gen Office

Mohammed Soriano-Bilal
Assistant Dean and Managing Director, Stanford Diversity and Inclusion Programs


Any questions?


Email sally.madsen@fmr.com


  • Fall 2019

  • No credit

  • Saturday, Nov 9, 9:30a-5p and Sunday, Nov 10, 9:30a-12p

  • d.school, Studio 1


Applications are due Friday, September 6th at 11:59pm.

Applications are now closed.