About 20 students and faculty members filled a circle of chairs in the Intergroup Relations Office for a discussion called the Talking Social Justice with Those You Love Open Dialogue on Wednesday.
The event aimed to facilitate conversation on strategies for openly discussing different identities with loved ones in the participants’ lives, including family and friends. The discussion was part of IGR’s CommonGround group, which holds dialogues to facilitate conversations on issues such as race and gender throughout the semester.
Social Work student Jonathan Vanderbeck, an intern at IGR, and Corina Kesler, a facilitator with IGR and a Lecturer in Classic Studies, led the dialogue.
Vanderbeck said he intended the conversation to be in keeping with the Valentine’s season, in relation to love, but also to provoke reflection on the subject of open discussions about important issues.
“When you’re with loved ones, people you care about, how do you go about having these contentious conversations?” he said.
He said the dialogue was a part of IGR’s ongoing efforts to encourage openness in relationships.
“A lot of what IGR is about is learning how to dialogue, and at IGR we talk about dialogue being this third way between open discussion and debate,” he said. “Dialogue is a focused way of having a conversation.”
Attendees broke out into smaller groups based on which category of loved ones they found having dialogues about identity most difficult. The choices were family, classmates/coworkers, significant others and friends. The talk also allowed the entire group to come together and share their ideas.
Education graduate student Chelsea Noble said she liked how they could break into groups and get to know other participants.
“I really appreciated that they kept us moving between circles so you got to hear from different folks, but there was also some big group debrief,” Noble said. “It felt dynamic, it felt like you could get your voice heard in a small group but also hear from the big group.”
While in these smaller groups, Vanderbeck and Kesler asked participants to discuss why they felt dialogue was challenging with this type of loved one and also offered suggestions for possibly easing this difficulty. They brought up different topics of dialogue such as gender, race and sexual identity and allowed people to switch groups with every change of topic.
Kesler said the willingness of various people to share experiences and thoughts made this discussion possible.
“I think the presence of so many participants interested in learning made our role much easier,” she said. “If this was a success, it had very little to do with us, to be sure.”
Education graduate student LaQwana Dockery, a graduate intern with IGR, said she really appreciated the camaraderie she felt with other audience members.
“It was nice to be around people who share the same feelings about certain issues and topics when it comes to important people in our lives and when we want to talk about different issues that are important to us,” she said. “But also we don’t want to damage the relationships we have with certain people that we really care about,”
Dockery said the dialogue helped her see that there were different ways to express her opinions on social justice.
“There’s a lot of different ways that you can intervene and that necessarily doesn’t have to be directly confronting someone,” she said. “I think people who are really involved and passionate about social justice put the weight on their shoulders that we need to tackle every single issue at that moment, but that might not necessarily be the case sometimes. It might be important to change the subject or pull someone aside and talk to them the next day.”
Correction appended: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Kesler’s title. It has been updated.