The Multicultural Student Advisory Council (MSAC) has proposed a Day of Dialogue to the Diversity Committee with the intention of sparking campus-wide discussions on issues such as race, gender and political ideologies. Junior and MSAC member Sam Arrez emphasized the importance of involving students, faculty and staff in the dialogues.
“A lot of the time, when you see these different dialogues that are happening on campus, you see a lot of the same students. So it’s a lot of preaching to the choir in a sense,” Arrez said.
She hopes that the cancellation of classes for the Day of Dialogue will encourage students to participate and bring in new perspectives.
Because Spring Term is only nine weeks and Flunk Day must be factored in, the Day of Dialogue, originally scheduled for April, has been postponed until next fall. MSAC will use the next four to five months to prepare, creating a space where students and faculty can be comfortable being uncomfortable.
The Day of Dialogue will have a structure similar to Fall Institute Day. The day itself will feature a regular 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule, beginning with an introductory workshop for students and faculty to discuss terminology. In the afternoon, students may choose to attend two of four dialogues on different social identities. The topics will intersect with each other, touching on subjects like mental health or education. MSAC has decided to bring in professionals to facilitate dialogues. Knox students and alumni will also be asked to contribute.
“A lot of the time it’s also [that] students just aren’t comfortable sharing their ideas and their perspectives for fear of backlash, Arrez said. “The point of the training is to say, ‘how do we avoid backlash and how do we avoid the conflicts that do arise from those different dialogues?’”
Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez described the idea as part of a larger shift from diversity to inclusivity.
“Racially and ethnically, we’re a very diverse campus but I think, depending on the student population that you talk to or the individual students that you talk to, they may not all describe Knox as home. And that’s the difference between diversity and inclusivity,” Cervantez explained.
Cervantez and Arrez want the Day of Dialogue to be more than a day off for students. Arrez is working to find incentives for students, such as making the events mandatory or offering extra credit.
Through connections with over 30 campus organizations, MSAC members have gathered overwhelming support for the initiative from the student body as well as the faculty and staff. According to Arrez, the faculty are now concerned with scheduling another day off into their schedules.
Cervantez cited social researcher Renee Brown’s work on empathy and vulnerability as an inspiration for a Day of Dialogue. She recalled a video Brown made in response to the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., in which she explained the importance of overcoming anxieties surrounding difficult discussions.
“I still make mistakes, I still may assume things that I shouldn’t assume, and then I find myself stepping back and apologizing and learning and educating myself. And I think that’s the goal, it’s to allow people to understand that these are not perfect conversations.”