Mud won’t stop Northwestern students from discussing issues of diversity and difference on campus. About one hundred students, faculty members and administrators crowded into the Allison dining hall on Friday afternoon for Dialogue at Deering, an event hosted by the student group Sustained Dialogue to foster conversation about what can be done to improve diversity and inclusion in the campus community.
From the beginning, the Allison atrium reverberated with conversation — with sustained dialogue moderators un-phased by the location change and participants eager to discuss their experiences.
Dialogue at Deering started with a large group activity on the spectrum of opinions about Northwestern, but the bulk of the event consisted of small groups dialoguing outside underneath blooming trees on one of the warmest days of the year yet.
The topics of discussion included answering questions such as “What are our individual and collective responsibilities for making Northwestern a more inclusive campus?,” “Do you feel your voice is heard within the Northwestern community?,” and “What issues or topics has our community not talked about this year?”
“Dialogue doesn’t have a right answer,” said Sarah Watson, SESP junior and one of the founders of Sustained Dialogue. “Dialogue isn’t about convincing someone that your opinion is right. Dialogue is about sharing experience. We firmly believe that everyone is an expert in their own experience, so just providing a space where everyone can share that is important.”
Watson said she was very happy with the large amount of students that came to participate, especially because Dialogue at Deering is one of the few times faculty members have the opportunity to talk directly to students.
Dona Cordero, the assistant provost for diversity and inclusion, attended the event and said she found the conversation productive.
“It’s important to hear things first hand from students instead of just reading what they’re thinking and reading what they’re feeling,” said Cordero. “This is a good thing to do — and I don’t mean ‘a good thing to do’ as fluff. It’s important to do this, and I think getting even more people involved would be even better.”
Peter Cleary, a Weinberg junior, got involved with Sustained Dialogue this spring and came to the dialogue because he wanted to continue participating in what he called an “awesome community.”
“I really enjoyed the conversation that I had with my group,” said Cleary, who discussed whether there is ‘One Northwestern’ and if that should be a goal of the university. “There was a very common thread of people wanting to improve Northwestern’s community which I thought was heartening. Northwestern in a lot of ways is fragmented and divided and not the supportive community that it could be, but there are a lot of people who care about changing the culture.”
Cydney Richardson, a Weinberg freshman, said she dialogued about how one’s identity affects their experience at Northwestern to “gain perspective” from people outside her friend group.
“I learned that not only does your race or gender or class affect your experience, but also your religion because there are a lot of religions underrepresented here as well as people of different sexualities,” Richardson said. “At the end, we all spoke about what we took from the group and we all had different things that we learned.”
This is the second time Dialogue at Deering has been hosted, after it was first held in May 2012 event when over 200 students came together to process a tumultuous school year filled with multipleracist incidents.
Watson said Sustained Dialogue plans to make Dialogue at Deering an annual event.