Dialogue Event Draws 200+

Over 200 students gathered in the Allison Great Hall on Monday, Sept. 28 to engage in dialogue about culture and inclusivity at Dickinson.

The Dialogue to Action event was organized with Dean Joyce Bylander in cooperation with Student Life and the Student Senate. The event was hosted by Vincent Stephens, director of the Popel Shaw Center for Race and Ethnicity, and Rhonda Fitzgerald, managing director of the Sustained Dialogue College Network.

In a Sept. 18 all-college email, President Roseman said that the event would be the first in “a series of activities that will promote further dialogue and result in clear actions toward improving inclusiveness in our community.”

“Dickinson, like virtually every community in the United States, has much progress to make on building a truly respectful and inclusive community,” Roseman said in the email.

The event began with an introduction to dialogue practices, then opening the floor to a “getting to know you” ice breaker and ending with the crowd breaking up into 11 small discussion groups. According to Stephens and Fitzgerald, the goal was create discussion around topics that people might ordinarily be unable to discuss with the larger population of the school.

“Tonight is not about a moment, a single day, a single person or a single organization,” Stephens said in his opening remarks. “It’s really about our culture. Who are we? Who do we want to be and how do we want to be? Tonight is really a first step towards becoming a more welcoming, just and inclusive community.”

After Stephens’s introduction, Fitzgerald took the microphone to explain the methods and objectives of dialogue.

“Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn. Each makes a serious effort to take other’s concerns into their own picture, even when disagreement persists. No participant gives up their own identity, but each recognizes the other’s valid human claims,” Fitzgerald said.

After introducing the mission of Sustained Dialogue, Fitzgerald led the audience in an icebreaker activity. She instructed audience members to find a partner they did not know and ask them the question “Who are you?” repeatedly. Their partner was instructed to give a different response to the question each time, and the questioning continued for a minute and a half until the partners switched roles.

The next phase of the event was small-group discussion. The eleven discussion groups aimed to facilitate discussion about all parts of life at Dickinson, and the topics ranged from economic class and privilege to the role of Greek life on campus. Audience members chose which group they wanted to attend and faculty, staff or students who had been trained in Sustained Dialogue methods moderated each discussion.

The discussions lasted a little over an hour and 20 minutes, during which the students shared personal stories, experiences and opinions based on the topic they chose. They were instructed to use “I” statements to share their experiences on campus that related to their discussion topic. At the end, students spilt off into groups of two to discuss what they could personally do to make Dickinson more inclusive. 

“I thought last night’s discussion was very productive, and much needed,” said Isabel Brown ’16. “My group tried to understand why we associate with certain people or groups on campus, and the sense of vulnerability we face when we’re pushed to engage with people outside our core group. I thought the format was a great way to allow people from all parts of campus to engage in respectful dialogue, and my group was certainly successful in doing so.  We determined that moving forward, it is important to break down barriers that would otherwise determine who we spend our time with, and make a conscious effort to engage with more people on campus.”

Fitzgerald took the stage again at the end of the event, encouraging students to stand up and share the plans their groups discussed to make the campus more inclusive. These plans ranged from instituting a race relations requirement to simply making eye contact with other students on campus. After each student spoke, Fitzgerald asked the room to raise their hands if they would follow this course of action.

“It’s easy to bask in the warm glow of talking about all these things that will make a difference on this campus,” Fitzgerald said in her closing remarks. “These are warm fuzzies that we’re hearing as people commit to these actions. Pass those along, pass these action steps along.  There are a lot of responsibilities that we have for each other.”

“Our hope is that you will feel compelled to sustain the dialogue and focus on the topics we discussed outside of the event today,” Stephens said before the crowd dispersed. “The goal is to have a series of conversations throughout the semester and at the end of the semester, we’ll be able to see what our actions steps have recommended.”