Northwestern students, faculty and staff gathered Friday to engage in dialogue in an effort to build community and promote discussion on various campus issues.
About 50 students attended the event, Dialogue at Deering, which was organized by members of Sustained Dialogue, housed under the department of Campus Inclusion and Community. Due to the weather, the event was moving from Deering Meadow to Allison Hall.
Sarah Watson, co-founder and outgoing co-lead moderator for Sustained Dialogue, kicked off the event by explaining the reasoning behind the first Dialogue at Deering event, held in April 2012 after a series of incidents of racial bias at NU. She highlighted several issues occurring during that time which demonstrated the need for campus-wide dialogue.
“We had a number of things happen that had a lot of people questioning, ‘where is the community at Northwestern, why don’t we talk to each other, why aren’t we getting along with each other,” Watson said about the first Dialogue at Deering event. “We really were wondering where is a space for dialogue at Northwestern and how can we create that.”
At the first event, about 200 individuals attended to discuss issues within the University. Watson said she and other members of Sustained Dialogue wanted to renew the dialogue this year in an effort to further build community. She noted the strides that have been made in the two years since the first event within the smaller Sustained Dialogue sessions and emphasized the importance of continuing to facilitate dialogue in an informal space.
Lesley-Ann Brown, executive director of campus inclusion and community, spoke to attendees about the plans the University has moving forward regarding diversity and inclusion. She said over the past year, NU has created multiple classes to meet the proposed learning outcomes from the proposed social inequalities and diversity requirements, and more than 300 students have participated in Sustained Dialogue.
Brown added the University is in the process of developing a diversity strategic plan. During Winter Quarter, several focus groups were held in an effort to gain insight and work on a strategy for the plan.
“That’s really important because right now there’s no document or methodology or strategy around diversity and inclusion for the University, and we’re forming that right now,” she said.
After the introduction, attendees were initially asked to respond to three statements for an exercise called “Take a Stand.” In response to the statements, which included whether attendees would have come to NU if they knew what their experience would look like before arriving and if students believed they took part in making the University a “stronger campus community,” attendees placed themselves on a spectrum across the room, with one side representing strongly agree and the other strongly disagree.
For the different questions, students stretched across the room, demonstrating the wide spectrum of opinions held by the community.
After the exercise, students, faculty and staff engaged in dialogue about the statements posed, before splitting up into several small groups to discuss a variety of campus issues. The groups were given six main questions to base their dialogue on, with Sustained Dialogue members moderating the discussions.
The questions included, “What does ‘One Northwestern’ mean and should it be our goal?” and, “What issues or topics has our community not talked about this year?”
Watson said the event was a good opportunity for students to speak with individuals they don’t normally interact with and to engage in dialogue about building campus community.
She said the event went well and she hopes to continue having similar discussions in the future. She added Sustained Dialogue sessions serve as a great outlet for students involved but singular events give more individuals the opportunity to participate, noting she hopes to make Dialogue at Deering an annual program.
“I was really surprised and excited by the turnout,” Watson said. “It really made me feel like people were committed to having these conversations, which was awesome.”
John Dunkle, executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said he enjoyed the discussion and expressed the importance of facilitating dialogue between members of the NU community.
“I loved it,” Dunkle said. “People from all across the campus — students, faculty, staff — got together to really talk about some really important issues for our campus.”
Weinberg junior Rex Tai said participating in events like Dialogue at Deering serves as an important learning experience, noting he hopes more students engage in continuing dialogues.
“I was part of these types of movements two years back, and they definitely shaped my college experience,” Tai said. “I still want to be part of these dialogues, but at the same time, I realize it’s so important that these dialogues can broaden even further and extend to other students as well.”
Watson said dialogue was an extremely important method of communication, serving as a way to effectively portray ideas and ensure everybody’s points are heard and validated. She said the event uses the discussions and dialogue in an effort to “create a better Northwestern.”
“I think that dialogue really is one of the only methods of communication that allows people to truly share their experience,” Watson said. “Unlike debate, for example, there’s no right answer. There’s no ‘I’m trying to convince you to be on my side.’ There are no sides. Everybody’s an expert in their own experience.”