Teacher. Scholar. Mentor.

Todd Schenk (pitchured middle), Photo credit: Christina Franusich
Todd Schenk (pitchured middle), Photo credit: Christina Franusich

Civility is more than an Aspiration for Todd Schenk. It’s his life’s work.

Todd is an assistant professor in the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. His research includes topics such as dispute resolution, empathy and understanding, and negotiation.

His interest in civil discourse stems from concerns about what he calls “the caustic nature of our interactions in various arenas, from public meetings to online fora.”

His unique expertise means that he is in high demand. Students want to work with him, research opportunities abound, and the media frequently calls on him to shed light on how we engage with others on sensitive issues.

Todd is willing and happy to share his expertise—especially when it means making Virginia Tech better and helping Hokies aspire to be the best they can be. He is a true teacher-scholar-mentor for all of us.

When Student Affairs needed expertise to plan and execute #CivilityVT, a 2017 program that invited students to learn how to interact and discuss polarizing issues with those whom they fundamentally disagree, we turned to Todd. More recently, he encouraged civil dialogue through his “Frenemies Day” program, which taught students active listening and respectful interrogation skills, and by training student leaders in Mozaiko living-learning community to facilitate their Controversial Conversations program.

One volunteer for #CivilityVT wrote, “I had the privilege of seeing people go through the process of coming in open but nervous, then leaving with more understanding of the perspectives of others as well as their own. It takes a lot to give people an introspective experience with practical take-away skills in one sitting, but Todd does it!”

The true genius and importance of his work is perhaps best summed up by a comment from a student who attended two #CivilityVT sessions: “I gained insight on how to approach a conversation with respect regardless of my point of view on the situation. I also made a new friend!”

Todd’s nominator wrote, “He brings together the theoretical and practical to identify opportunities for us to coexist in and out of the classroom. He practices what he teaches. Not only does he provide a platform for students, staff, and faculty to practice civility directly, he is open in his own practice.”

His tips for engaging others civilly? Number 1: Practice active listening. Number 2: Agree on some ground rules up front. Number 3: Don’t assume you are “giving up” something by doing these things and engaging with empathy.

Todd says, “I want to be part of a community in which we can have these conversations about topics we don’t agree on, and I think it’s a valuable skill -- dare I say essential skill -- for all of us to be able to do it as civilly as possible.”