Diversity Dialogues at FRCC provide students the opportunity to engage in discussions that are rare held in daily life yet are becoming increasingly more important to have in a highly-connected and diverse world.
“I think it’s important for any individual as part of the world, and certainly as part of the campus community, to engage in diversity oriented topics, to challenge your thinking process, to get you to think critically, to broaden your perspectives, because that will help you here on campus but will also help out in the world,” said Dan Balski, Coordinator of Student Organizations and Leadership Development at Front Range Community College- Westminster.
This semester’s Diversity Dialouge, focused on gender and expression, is scheduled for March 15, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the WC Rocky Mountain Room.
Diversity Dialogues discuss topics of inclusion, or an individual’s feeling or lack of inclusion, covering topics such as gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation or nationality. These subjects are contentious to talk about and generally avoided.
“When you provide an avenue for folks to feel that they’re represented where they don’t see themselves represented in other places on campus is a very powerful experience for them,” Balski said. “There [are] not a lot of opportunities for you just to talk about race or sexual orientation or gender and all those different identities in a venue like that.”
Many of these important discussions are left out of normal conversation because they are sensitive issues that can easily spiral into arguments.
On their web page about Diversity Dialogues, The University of Wisconsin-Madison states the difference between debates, discussions and dialogues. Debates are confrontational interactions during which speakers aim to convince others to change their point of view. Discussions are usually analytic forms of academic engagement focused on sharing of ideas. In contrast, dialogues focus on sharing and learning personal perspectives and encourage a sense of community.
Even though certain topics are uncomfortable to talk about Balski emphasizes their importance. “This is a very diverse world and for faculty and staff to be more knowledgeable around topics related to diversity is important. Students [need] to be more culturally competent because they should be able to engage around these topics and hopefully broaden their perspectives so they walk through the world in a better way,” he said.
Hosted by the Diversity Committee, Diversity Dialogues are held once per semester. A typical event consists of a presentation, accompanied by a PowerPoint or Ted Talk, followed by round table and audience-wide discussions.
Balski stressed that this event is open to anyone. “Part of the intention is to engage the campus community as a whole- faculty, students and staff- around topics related to diversity,” he said.
Despite the open invitation, many students shy away from the controversial topics. “Sometimes getting into those conversations is uncomfortable, but if its not uncomfortable, then you are not doing it right,” Balski said.
He encouraged students approach the event with an open mind and a willingness to learn. “Broadening [your] perspective is important because then you start to realize how things may be set up around us. It opens up your eyes and you’re able to process things in a better way,” he said.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Diversity Dialogue participation agreements mandate that attendees: create a safe space, engage honestly, take risks and explore beliefs, keep an open attitude, treat the event as an opportunity for learning, focus on personal experiences and show a willingness to learn and respect differences.
“We’ve had audience members who, beyond that particular program, haven’t had an opportunity to engage in [controversial] discussion and didn’t realize that it was possible,” Balski said.
Diversity Dialogues offer attendees a chance to build rapport with people, become more understanding, and improve their abilities to communicate effectively and respectfully.
Written by Alex Liethen
Photo from Front Range Community College