The Between the Lines Intergroup Dialogue had its kick off session on Feb. 13 at 12:30 p.m. at the Marshall Center. This semester long dialogue is divided into two issues; one on socio economic status facilitated by Muneeba Syed ’17 and Forest Sung ’17 and another on race and ethnicity facilitated by Samantha Barnett ’16 and Rebecca Suarez ’15.
This semester received strong involvement, with approximately forty students from a diversity of backgrounds applying to the program. Syed said that the dialogues were conducted in four stages: introduction, identity and conflict, hot topics and alliance building. The dialogues were structured in this manner in order to “build up a community and to make each other comfortable with sharing personal experiences about various social identities.”
She added that the stages of identity and conflict were for participants to discover more about themselves and where they fall on the spectrum of various social identities. Hot topic sessions concerned the discussion of controversial issues both on and off campus. Discussions on alliance building were about connecting with people, building bridges and taking the conversation outside the Marshall Center.
Assistant Director of International and Intercultural Programs, Kelsey Andrade, said that the main goal of facilitators “is to create a cooperative, non-judgmental learning environment where participants feel comfortable tackling controversial issues. We explore power imbalances within and between social group identity, conflict, diversity and social justice.”
She also said, “We strive to encourage self-reflective conversations and consideration of alternative perspectives. We guide students in tackling tension that arises from differences and challenge participants to rethink their own attitudes and assumptions through sharing of personal experiences and feelings. Our goal is to find common ground between many differing experiences and increase understanding.”
“The student facilitator decides upon themes and goals for the week,” said Syed. “Next week is one of my favorites- cultural chest. Everyone brings in two items. One that is related to the social identity for their dialogue group and one that covers any one of their other social identities; race, class, gender, age, sexuality, ability, nationality, religion. So that way we get to learn a little bit more about the people we’re going to spend the next semester with.”
Both Andrade and Syed emphasized the importance of consistent attendance and full-commitment from the participant for all 10 weeks. This is so that participants are comfortable sharing their opinions on contoversial topics and because the dialog program has incorporated journals to engage participants in reflective writing. Those who are participating in the sessions to fulfill their course connection would be required to complete an additional assignment at the conclusion of the dialogue.
Andrade added, “As students shared their hopes and fears of the program, several participants commented on their eagerness to learn more about themselves and about the experiences of others, a desire to step out of their comfort zones and openly engage in these meaningful conversations, and their excitement for the opportunity to build new relationships with people they may have never considered starting a conversation with before taking part in this program.”