Ogechi Nwordu, UDARI Community Engagement Award Update

Posted on August 3, 2021 at: 10:53 am

Healing Us: Cultivating Healing and Change Through Empathic Listening (copyright 2021)

“Healing Us: Cultivating Healing and Change Through Empathic Listening Workshop” was designed to facilitate and foster racial healing among students identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the University of Delaware campus. Healing Us is a structured, process-oriented workshop, inspired by the significant need for community based racial healing initiatives. It uses group therapy techniques and collectivist community-based practices to guide participants through the process of developing empathy for their peers. Healing Us was funded by a community engagement fellowship grant from the University of Delaware Anti-Racism Initiative (UDARI).


Ogechi Nwordu, Psy.D.
Primary Investigator
University of Delaware
Chestnut Hill College
Project conducted while completing graduate degree

Julie Garson, Psy.D.
Psychologist II
University of Delaware


Liora Schneider Mirmanas, Psy.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Swarthmore college
Chestnut Hill College

Kaseem Parsley, M.S.
Doctoral Student
Chestnut Hill College

Andrew Wilkins, M.S.
Doctoral Student
Chestnut Hill College


“Healing Us: Cultivating Healing and Change Through Empathic Listening Workshop” was designed to facilitate and foster racial healing among students identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the University of Delaware campus. Healing Us is a structured, process-oriented workshop, inspired by the significant need for community based racial healing initiatives. It uses group therapy techniques and collectivist community-based practices to guide participants through the process of developing empathy for their peers. Healing Us was funded by a community engagement fellowship grant from the University of Delaware Anti-Racism Initiative (UDARI).

All materials for this project were created through extensive research, as well as through the infusion of knowledge gained from lived experience as a member of the BIPOC community. The hope was that the structure and content of this workshop would be appropriate for a diverse range of students because it was created from a lens of cultural sensitivity/understanding, allowed for discussion flexibility, and supported collaborative thinking. Thus, rather than focus on one BIPOC group, diversity of group members was selected to help foster increased empathetic listening and understanding across racial groups with a goal to help reduce racial divides among BIPOC communities and propel racial healing.

Four workshops, lasting 90 minutes, were conducted once a week, over a four-week period through Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. Below is a brief description of the four workshops conducted. A more detailed description can be found in the Appendices.


June 28, 2021
At this first workshop, 9 participants joined. The focus of this workshop was for participants to get to know each other through the sharing of their salient identities. Group guidelines were established to help cultivate a safe climate that was respectful and non-judgmental. Lastly, workshop goals were explored.

July 5, 2021
At the second workshop, 8 participants joined. Crisis management skills were discussed. Tiers of Racial trauma healing were discussed, and components of empathic listening were explored. Learned empathic listening skills were practiced by group members.

July 12, 2021
At the third workshop, 7 participants joined. Session two skills practice continued. The power of disclosure and vulnerability were discussed. Additional crisis management skills were discussed.

July 19, 2021
At the fourth and final workshop, 8 participants joined. Components of empathic listening were explored and practiced. Participants engaged in a reflection about their experiences.


Prior to workshop
After the IRB approval was secured, Zoom calls were held with individuals from various departments and organizations to explain the project and seek recruitment assessment. A recruitment flyer was emailed to various departments and organizations on campus. These departments and organizations forwarded these flyers to students. Interested participants emailed seeking more detail about the project. Individual Zoom meetings were held, and consent documents were reviewed. Recruitment during the summer presented with some challenges as students were not as readily available and accessible by email.

After Acceptance
Upon acceptance to participate in the workshop, consent forms were sent and signed through Qualtrics. Information and updates were shared with participants through regular email updates, which provided information about the workshop schedule, Zoom link, and any instructions for assessment completions.

After the Workshop
After the workshop, two post-workshop surveys were shared with participants. Final incentive was mailed to each participant.


Recruitment attempted to gather a diverse range of student body within the BIPOC community with regards to race/ethnicity, and student status. Out of the eight participants who completed the workshop, seven identified as female, and one identified as male. Two participants identified as African in origin. Three participants identified as African American. Three participants identified as Latinx in origin. Four participants were graduate students, and four participants were undergraduate students.


The first evaluation was conducted with a pre-workshop survey which assessed current levels of empathic listening skills of participants. A post-workshop assessment using the same survey was also administered to participants. Additionally, participants completed a feedback survey regarding their experience in the workshop.

Seven participants completed the Active-Empathic Listening Scale (AELS) pre-assessment, and five participants completed both the AELS pre- and post-assessment. All five participants who completed the pre and post assessment reported improvements in the active-empathic listening skills in three or more areas assessed.

Responses to the workshop experience, both in the feedback assessment and in individual comments from participants, were predominantly positive.
Five out of eight participants completed the post workshop feedback survey.

Two participants strongly agreed and three agreed that they learned skills to enhance their empathic listening. Four participants strongly agreed and one agreed that they increased their awareness of active listening.

Participants reported learning the importance of the following skills when actively listening:
Four participants reported learning reflective listening and observation of non-verbal cues .
Four participants reported learning how to provide reflective feedback (ex. Paraphrasing), Building Empathy, Building a Safe Space, Using Vulnerability to Build a Safe Space, while two participants reported learning to recognize Roadblocks. One participant reported learning Crisis Management skills when actively listening and letting people continue voicing their thoughts rather than interrupting with questions.

Three participants agreed and two strongly agreed on reflecting on the importance of racial healing. Four agree and one strongly agrees that their understanding of the racial healing process has increased. Two participants strongly agreed, two participants agreed, and one reported being neutral about feeling comfortable sharing experiences in the group. Upon further elaborations, participants reported feeling “accepted”, “valued”, “not judged”, and “heard”.

All the participants strongly agreed that the facilitator created a safe space to share experiences about racial healing and learn empathic listening. All participants felt completely safe in the space that the facilitator created. One participant strongly agreed, two agreed, and one felt neutral about the usefulness of the Mindfulness Activity. Four participants reported that virtual platforming had a negative effect on their experience and one reported feeling neutral. Upon further elaboration about the virtual experience, they reported experiencing “distractions”, “difficulty connection” and being as “vulnerable”. However, these challenges were minimized during the “smaller breakout rooms”. Participants appreciated the “convenience” of the virtual platform.

All participants would recommend this workshop to other students due the ability to share experience with other BIPOC community members in a small group setting. Participants reportedly wanted more gender diversity and would prefer the workshop in person in order to minimize challenges presented by virtual interactions.

Recommendations for future workshops include providing PowerPoint or handout, increasing breakout room time, and having the workshop in-person. Overall, participants reportedly felt very comfortable during the training.


The unique advantage of this workshop is the emphasis on emotional experience and emotional expression. Both of these factors are necessary for the degree of empathic listening that we hoped for our participants to achieve. It is our belief that this functions as an advantage because it provides real time opportunities for BIPOC members to reflect and process aspects of our workshop. Not only is space for these reflections and processes built into the structure of our project, it is also an explicit part of the culture that we worked to craft with each workshop. From our perspective, the key to the sustainability of the workshop is to allow space for members to process and reflect upon the current experience that they are having with respect to the purpose of the workshop. This includes voicing concerns, criticisms, negative experiences, and negative emotional experiences. Within this space is also an emphasis on the importance of dissident experiences and opinions. By allowing a wide brevity of thought, reflections, and experiences (ADDRESSING Model) we create a community where each member shapes the dynamics of the group. allowing them to feel essential to that particular group’s process. More importantly, the act of emotional expression is an act in stress reduction and toleration. It is our philosophy that unmanageable stress is the greatest threat to our group’s cohesion and sustainability.

Additionally, at the end of each group, the facilitator was responsible for discussing group dynamics and implementing creative prophylaxis meant to correct directions that would be unfit for the setting. The facilitator also consulted directly with participants for suggestions around improvement.


Workshop Schedule and Location
The workshop was held over Zoom due to Covid-19 restrictions. Consistency in day and time of meetings allowed for ease in scheduling. The participants were able to reserve four Mondays, from 5pm to 6:30 PM, on their schedule. A Zoom link was sent each afternoon on the day of the workshop to reduce the challenge of having to search through email to find it. Evening time frame was selected due to participants’ schedules. Participants reportedly finished classes, research, and work by the start of the workshop. The workshop was reduced from five to four due to recruitment challenges around time commitment.

Virtual Communication
Conducting all aspects of the workshop through virtual communication presented its pros and cons. Technical difficulties consisting of poor internet connection were experienced at times by participants. Some participants reported difficulty with being fully present during the workshop due to distractions such as computer notifications, phone calls, phone notifications, environmental noise, etc. While some participants reported some difficulty practicing empathic listening skills virtually, they exerted optimal effort in each session. Even with the limitations of virtual meetings, participants reported feeling comfortable with self-disclosure due to the safe, respectful, and non-judgmental climate that was established. All participants reportedly liked the smaller group breakout room practices, citing that it allowed for increased willingness in self-disclosure.

Workshop Material
Workshop materials were discussed without visual aid. However, several participants reportedly preferred to have the materials presented in PowerPoint or handout form so they can continue to reflect on the learned/discussed materials after the sessions. Although sessions were 90 minutes in length, session content was reduced or carried over to another session due to participants’ high level of engagement in discussions.


The vision for this workshop was to generate a method and structure that was accessible to all populations. We worked hard to create a strong philosophical and scientific basis, but also wanted to recognize and emphasize that the ultimate agents of change were empathy and listening. It is our hope that this workshop can be implemented in any setting whether it be spiritual gatherings, academic institutions, corporate and business settings, small interpersonal gatherings, or even public discourse. We believe that if our culture is given the opportunity to fully process our racial reality and history, then we stand a greater chance at unity, healing, and freedom. The long-term impact is intended to stimulate social and individual change.

Many of our constituents have expressed interest in this endeavor. The recent social upheavals and international recognition of those social upheavals has generated a culture that is very much interested in processing racial trauma but lacks the means to do so. This has created a pocket in the culture and the market for a methodology that could address these concerns. Our intent is to produce talks, presentations, manuals, theoretical books, and other forms of media for these ideas to be accessed.

9. References

Bodie, G. D. (2011). The Active-Empathic Listening Scale (AELS): Conceptualization and evidence of validity with the interpersonal domain. Communication Quarterly, 59, 277 295.
Christopher, G. (2018). Empathy: The Power of Healing Within Us. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from
Miller, W. R. (2018). Listening well: The art of empathic understanding. Wipf & Stock.