The Multicultural Student Advisory Council (MSAC) will be hosting its first “Day of Dialogue” on Wednesday, Oct. 17. The event provides an opportunity for all members of the Knox community to engage in campus-wide dialogues about race, class, political identities and gender.
The event will take place during Fall Institute Day, a time when classes are suspended and many informational sessions and activities are planned. Director of the Center for Intercultural Life (CIL) Tianna Cervantez has been a main organizer since the idea was first brought up within MSAC last year.
“We were talking as a student group about this idea that we have a dialogue on campus but yet there’s an increasing feeling that folks still aren’t feeling heard, that students don’t feel they have the capacity or the tools to engage in conversations around difficult topics,” Cervantez said.
The main goal of the event is to bring people together who may not normally interact in these contexts. Last year, MSAC members worked to draft a proposals for the days that was eventually presented and approved. From there, they have been working to plan and organize the day.
MSAC member and junior Sasha Gurzakovic hopes that the Day of Dialogue will encourage the Knox community to resist polarization and practice active listening.
“There’s always a binary of two sides warring with each other, two sides who don’t want to talk to each other because they don’t believe they can possibly find any type of common ground,” she said. “Dialogue is supposed to introduce people to the concept of speaking from their own perspective and then actively listening to understand where people are coming from.”
Gurzakovic also explained that the goal is to encourage everyone to participate, regardless of their ideologies or dialogue experience.
“It kind of stems from the fact that Knox says that we’re an open environment, and that we’re open to ideas, but really it’s like we’re open to ideas that fit our own,” she said. “And there’s a small portion of people on this campus who are kind of marginalized because they fit the dominant group — for example, the conservatives on campus are sometimes silenced because we are so liberal.”
Junior Nikyra Washington, another MSAC member, also emphasized the importance of inclusivity in dialogues, specifically considering international students.
“We want to make this as inclusive as possible, so it’s not just ‘what’s going on in the U.S.?’ We want to broaden it to where everybody is in the conversation and make sure the topics we’re hitting on are not necessarily only specific to this country, but rather can be connected back for everyone. We want as much conversation there as possible,” Washington said.
Faculty, staff, and students will each have the opportunity to participate in two of four dialogues: race, class, political ideology and gender. Cervantez emphasized that these four topics are only a few of many identities held on this campus, but that the goal is to continue this new tradition and focus on additional identities in the future.
“This is meant to be a beginning. It’s not meant to be an end all be all; it’s not meant to solve problems on our campus. It’s meant to really provide a space and an opportunity for people to share what they’re thinking, what they’re living, so that we can begin to figure out how to start understanding and moving in a society that has grown increasingly polarized,” she said.
The plan is for each of these dialogues to be co-facilitated by faculty and students. In addition, Knox will be welcoming keynote speaker and facilitator trainer Dr. Becky Martinez. She will be presenting on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 16 as well as offering “Dialogue 101” facilitation training for all faculty and staff. There will also be a separate training for students interested in facilitating.
“This is not an attempt to give everyone on campus every tool or skill set that they need, but it’s to make sure that those who are going to be participating in the dialogues later that afternoon are on the same page regarding terminology,” Cervantez said. “We also talk about those kinds of things that are pertinent to a dialogue, that it’s not to debate somebody’s ideas, it’s not to question somebody’s lived experience, it’s to be able to sit in those small groups and really hear each other so that we can figure out where we start.”
Cervantez will send out an official schedule with a complete list of events within the next few days. She encourages anyone who may be unsure whether they want to attend to reach out to her or one of the student MSAC members with any questions or concerns.
“I want to operate off of a core tenant that dialogue assumes: that people are coming in with good intentions. The idea is that there are many people who have not engaged with people in conversations around these topics,” she said. “And until you’re able to do that, you really can’t start to question, critique and validate how you live and feel.”