New discussion groups encourage open conversations
The lines of conversation are being opened through The Difference is Dialogue events. Various dialogue groups were created so students can express their thoughts, opinions and experiences related to diversity.
“In having discussions with faculty and staff, whether it was committee meetings or over coffee, there seemed to be a desire for both faculty and staff to develop more deep and meaningful connections with students,” said Charlotte Davidson, the special assistant to the president for diversity and Native American affairs.
After looking to see if a program existed where faculty, staff and students talked about diversity, Davidson discovered that South Dakota State University did not have a program that did that.
The dialogues were modeled after the Voices of Discovery program at the University of South Dakota.
According to Davidson, a pilot program at SDSU was launched during the fall semester. The pilot program consisted of three dialogue groups that met an hour and a half for four weeks.
Through the pilot, Ascheman discovered that the students involved in the preliminary dialogues wanted more dialogues, which is why the spring dialogues are a five-week program where students will meet for two hours each week.
“So our program is really about developing the ability for students to have those conversations and do it in a manner that is more appropriate, and that way they are learning some of the terms and some of the ways to speak and they’re learning how to talk in a group,” Ascheman said.
The dialogues are split into: urban/rural, students of color/white students, international students/U.S. born students and religious differences across campus.
The structure of the dialogue will be the facilitator bringing up questions and allowing any student to give their feedback to the question. At the end of every session, students will be asked to fill out a form that asks them what they want to discuss at the next meeting.
“We really want this to be a student-led discussion because even though there are professors and staff that are leading it, eventually we really want it to be a student bred, student led program so it’s really about them and what they want to learn,” Ascheman said.
For students to participate in the dialogues, they have to fill out a registration application. The applications are due by Jan. 15, but the deadline may be extended.
“Students will be essentially talking about stories that will involve speaking their minds and expressing their opinions,” Davidson said. “The facilitators are there to hold the space in a way where everybody still feels that air of comfort and welcoming.”
Davidson believes the dialogues will not only start new conversations, but also bring a new language to campus.
“One of the really neat things for the students, but for the facilitators as well, is to learn a new language that centers on social justice issues; that centers around equity, diversity, inclusion, learning—about learning your place in that, your role in that—consciously or unconsciously,” Davidson said.
For Amanda John, a freshman political science and sociology major, discussions like the dialogue are a human responsibility.
“I just feel when you have an opportunity to learn and to listen to people there’s so much you can get from it. I almost felt that it would be wrong on my part not to be there,” John said.
John attended the CommUNITY dialogue at the end of the fall semester. For her, it was a learning experience because she learned about other minority communities who were facing discrimination.
“The are so many subdivisions [of races] that we need to learn to understand. You might not completely accept what it stands for, but you should be able to love your neighbor,” John said. “How you can love your neighbor if you cannot understand your neighbor?”
The dialogues will begin the week of Jan. 25.
Rural/ Urban Students Jan. 26 at Tuesday 5 – 7 p.m.
Students of Color/ White students Jan. 27 at Wednesday 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
International Students/ U.S. born students Jan. 27 at Wednesday 5 – 7 p.m.
Religious Differences across campus Jan. 28 at Thursday 5 – 7 p.m.