The Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE) is transitioning to a student-led model for its Diversity Dialogues. This will create the best possible environment for open discussion, according to Keshia Booker, assistant director of multicultural development for OIE.
Student facilitators have been hired as part of the transition. They write the dialogues, research topics, book rooms and spread the word through social media.
Sophomores Caroline Sears, an exercise science major, and Nybert Samuels, a public relations major, were hired in fall 2021 and have experience with OIE. Samuels originally worked with the office as part of a scholarship program, then chose to become more involved. Sears applied due to her interest in Diversity Dialogues. Last year, she attended every session on Zoom.
“I thought it’d be really cool to see the other side,” Sears said.
Booker wrote and facilitated every discussion when they began in 2019. Now she has taken on a supervising role, providing feedback and helping Sears and Samuels improve their facilitation and writing skills.
Booker noted that it was easier for students to have organic conversations when facilitated by peers rather than administrators.
“Having actual students facilitate the conversation really goes back to the nature of what we were trying to do, which challenged our students to be able to have difficult conversations in safe spaces,” Booker said.
Last semester, assessments were introduced at the end of each session so that students could suggest changes and topics for future dialogues. All of this semester’s topics came from the suggestions.
To narrow it down, Sears and Samuels each chose five topics, created PowerPoints based on them and debated with a panel in the office. The panel had the final decision on which topics would be covered.
Due to the increased interest since students have returned to campus, attendance has jumped from 10 to 20 students to 50 or 60. Until this semester, discussions were hosted in room 322 at the Smith Student Center (SSC). Now, most are held in the SSC theater, a larger space, to accommodate the newcomers.
The student facilitators are incorporating events, such as panel discussions, into the discussions. They have also partnered with the SRU Athletics Department to host Diversity Dialogues specifically for off-season athletes. According to Booker, this allows them to connect with students who may not be able to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
As an administrator, Diversity Dialogues have given Booker more insight into students’ perspectives.
“Our students are amazing. Really being able to sit down and listen to their worldview has impacted the way that I interact with students as a facilitator and as an assistant director,” Booker said.
After a year of virtual events, Samuels finds he is more comfortable with in-person Diversity Dialogues and making face-to-face connections rather than watching a computer screen.
“I can look into their eyes, make contact with them, and just hear their stories on a personal basis,” Samuels said.
There have been debates during some dialogues, such as Redefining Gender and Sexuality, and Sears enjoys the variety of viewpoints represented.
“I feel like it’s a really good learning opportunity. Not only on the topic but also learning how to have discussions with people who don’t necessarily agree with you,” Sears said.
Those interested in learning more about this semester’s Diversity Dialogues can reach out on CORE.