By VERONICA SCHUVER
Allegheny College recognizes that 2014 brings the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the catalyst for great change. It is only fitting that students and faculty reflect on the strides that our nation has made towards justice, all the while recognizing the distance that lies ahead for humanity. This has inspired the College to program events for the 2013/2014 year centered on diversity, civil rights, and acceptance of difference. These include civil rights icon Julian Bond as a keynote speaker, several theatre productions, and a conference on March 28-29 entitled, “Democracy Realized? Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Going along with this theme, Allegheny’s Sustained Dialogue groups have organized a six-week program, engaging a diverse group of students and faculty to discuss the implications of power, privilege, difference and diversity in our communities. This is the third semester for this program. It involves a two-hour commitment for the following dates: Jan. 23, Feb. 6, Feb. 20, March 6, March 27, and April 10. According to the program description, students in this group are encouraged to have open-minded and personal dialogue throughout the program, bringing not only relevant issues and controversies to the table, but also their own individual perspective.
These meetings encourage a unique type of conversation amongst participants. Student Nathan Malachowski, ’14, emphasized the difference between discussion and dialogue.
“Discussion frames the exchange of ideas as a battle with winners and losers, whereas dialogue maneuvers around this ineffective framework to work toward mutual understanding and respect,” said Malachowski.
During meetings, students talk about topics such as the anonymity of Allegheny Confessions, interracial adoption, inclusivity, intersections of identities and issues, and environmental justice. These groups can be a release for students to find a way to analyze and deal with meaningful situations in their own lives and relationships. Because these discussions are often deep and personal, students find that they form close bonds with others in the group. According to student and participant Vanessa Chavez, ’14, who has participated in the groups for three semesters, the conversations can often get quite heavy.
“It is always one of my personal goals to be in a space of discomfort because I believe that it is only then that we can attempt to dismantle any of the structures that have been put in place to hinder or weaken us.” Chavez states.
Students who participate in the dialogues seem to agree that it is a very enriching and transformative endeavor. They recommend it to other students and hope to see more attendance and interest in the biweekly dialogues.
Student Tiffany Ng, ’14, who has also been a part of the groups for three semesters, said: “Sustained dialogue is a time of reflection as we students find a place for ourselves in this world.”
As these groups create an open-minded environment, students can not only form bonds, but create a type of understanding that seems to be missing in other college endeavors. This is important because, as Chavez puts it, “I believe you cannot truly respect or care about someone unless you know their journey and you cannot know their journey unless you listen to them.”