Conversations surrounding racial justice, equity and inclusion aren’t always easy. Or comfortable. But that’s exactly what a large group of students, faculty and staff did to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Simpson College hosted the Simpson Dialogue Series on Jan. 20 in Hubbell Hall, the fourth edition of the series that began on MLK Day in 2019.
This tough, conversation-based forum is part of a new initiative brought forward by faculty meant to make Simpson’s campus more diverse and inclusive. A space in which students and faculty of all races, ethnicities, and identities can feel safe and included.
In order to ensure meaningful conversation, students were randomly selected to sit at one of several tables. A facilitator led the discussion at each table. Discussions revolved around the main dialogue. The rules were simple: respect the opinions of others, don’t argue or debate, just listen and digest the concepts and questions you’re being asked.
Junior David Robinson decided to become a facilitator last semester when he was inspired by the Black Student Union to do so.
“A professor approached me about the possible dialogue program and I decided it would be the perfect place to use my voice,” Robinson said.
Even as a facilitator, Robinson learned some important lessons.
“The most important thing I learned is that there is a need for discussions like these,” he said. “We have to start somewhere, and starting with something campus-wide can help the discussions and the way they’re handled in the smaller communities on campus. From dorm rooms to clubs, those discussions can happen there as well.”
Difficult discussions like the ones held in this forum can help students to broaden their horizons.
“It’s not a debate or an argument,” Robison said. “Everyone is sharing their feelings and their thoughts about what’s happening to their peers. An open space like this — where we can think through our ideas — helps reinforce why students should care about issues like these.”
Sophomore Dalaney Reese also felt that the dialogue event was productive because it started a conversation.
“I definitely gained more insight into what other students have experienced and ideas that they have for little things that we can do around campus to make our campus more inclusive,” she said.”
After attending this year’s dialogue, Reese came out with a feeling of accomplishment and change.
"It is awesome to see so many students, faculty, and staff come together to engage in conversation like this,” she said. “From a student’s perspective, it is interesting to hear from faculty and staff on these topics and how we can all come together to make our campus better for everyone.”
Dialogues like these help students to understand issues of inequality that may not directly affect them, celebrate the life of MLK, broaden their lenses and transform the campus and community.
“[These conversations] are the first step toward finding solutions,” Reese said. “But we are all personally responsible, to some extent, for the implementation and forward progress that we need to make.”