As the 2016 presidential elections approach, the Program on Intergroup Relations and the Center for Campus Involvement held an event to discuss the roles of different identities in politics on Tuesday.

The Social Identity Dialogue was led by Education graduate student Melissa Charles and Public Health graduate student Maryn Lewallen, both members of IGR. Charles said because of the small number of participants, they adapted the format of the event from an interactive activity to an open talk. In an effort to provide a safe space for participants to express their opinions, the Daily was asked not to record the event.

“It was a smaller group than we anticipated, and we didn’t do what we planned on doing,” Charles said. “But the conversations that we had ended up being exactly the kind of conversations we were looking for.”

Lewallen said she considered the evening a success, meeting and exceeding her expectations for the dialogue.

“Every time I’m in a dialogic space, I become a better listener,” she said. “Something I try to think about around politics especially is I have my vote, and you have your vote, and I don’t want to tell you what to do with your vote, but I want to understand why you feel that way. I feel like that was an exercise in this understanding.”

During the event, Charles and Lewallen periodically posed general questions to the group about how their social identities and the identities of current presidential candidates influenced their opinions. They also provided a list of resources with information on voting policies in Michigan and an unbiased comparison of candidates’ platforms.

The group discussed whether more dialogue would be beneficial in a political context and on campus, and how conversations tend to be centered on parties and on candidates rather than issues.

Charles said the dialogue motivated her to combat some of her indifference toward the presidential campaign, specifically the Democratic candidates.

“I’ve been very indifferent towards both of the candidates because of my identity as a Black woman, and I just don’t feel like either of them have proven to me that that is something that they can adequately address and move forward on,” Charles said. “What I would say has changed after that dialogue it that I am more willing to challenge my indifference and try to figure out something.”

However, some participants were disappointed with the event’s small turnout. LSA sophomore Jennifer Emery, a program assistant with CCI, said she was expecting more people.

“It went pretty well for the amount of people we had today,” Emery said. “Of course we were hoping it would be a little bigger, but we’ll take what we can get.”

Charles also said while she was happy with the way the dialogue went, a more varied audience would have led to a more challenging conversation.

“I think it would have been a lot harder to manage, but I think it would have been awesome if we had had College Dems and College Republicans,” she said.

This dialogue was the first time IGR and CCI partnered up and facilitated a dialogue together. Emery said the partnership with IGR helped with CCI’s goal of hosting discussions like this.

“Social Identity Dialogues is a program that CCI wanted to do this semester and we needed help from them in order to create a dialogue,” Emery said.

Emery also said IGR drew on their typical audience for the various dialogues IGR hosts.

“I’m glad we had the opportunity to partner with IGR because they brought a lot of people who usually come to their dialogue,” she said.

Emery and Charles said the two groups plan to co-host further dialogues in the future.


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