Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Maybe not getting my hope too high paid off, because I was actually quite pleased with how the Day of Dialogue went yesterday. Let me explain, because I still do have some worries and I know that not everyone agreed with me.
I’ll start at the beginning of the day, with the keynote speaker, Dr. Jamie Washington. Dr. Washington brought an energy and an engagement that was largely absent at last year’s event. Not only was he funny and lively, but he got us to get up and interact with one another, a tactic that I felt helped wake us up and also helped us break the ice of the day to come. He also was very clear and easy to relate to in his message. The way he described the issues of privilege, diversity, and inclusion made even me, a person who does engage in these issues and conversations on a regular basis, think about the topics in new ways. I know from talking with other students and seeing some responses to his talk on a Moodle forum for one of my classes that his talk helped many students who don’t usually think about these issues understand them.
I particularly liked his left hand/right hand analogy when discussing privilege. Many people often hesitate to enter into these conversations because they feel worried that they will be attacked as an oppressor, when in most cases people are unaware of the issues and their role in continuing oppression. He described it as the world being built for people who are right handed. Desks, scissors, sports equipment, cars, the list goes on, these are all things built to accommodate right handed people. Left handed people have to deal with problems in their daily lives that right handed people do not have to even think about. And there is where the privilege lies. It is not that right handed people are actively going around trying to dominate left handed people, merely that they live in a world that is built for them and they do not need to daily address the inconveniences of not automatically fitting in.
And this is how it is for each identity. Everyone has multiple identities, and in each there are times when a person is in the dominant group and other times when they are in the marginalized group. The aim of discussions like those held yesterday are to start to change those hierarchies from one above the other into both groups being equal, and eventually intertwined.
I also liked the way he talked about the institution’s efforts in teaching DePauw about diversity and inclusion. I had definitely been a critic of the day, thinking that DePauw was taking the easy way out by only having these discussions on one day of the year. But DePauw is trying, and this day is a sign of that. They are trying to teach us, and in that effort they are not failing us, but those who refuse to come and participate are earning a failing grade on their own. I know that these discussions cannot only happen one day a year, but the school is planning other methods of making these discussions more salient to everyday life at DePauw. Just because these changes haven’t happened yet and I will not be at DePauw to see them enacted does not mean that they are not being planned.
The first break out group that I attended reaffirmed this message to me. Privilege of Oblivion was a great discussion about being an ally, choosing not to remain oblivious of the issues and of different identities, and of standing in solidarity with communities one is not a part of without needing to become their savior. Near the end, one student asked our facilitator a question about how to bring these ideas to our lives after the Day of Dialogue, and our facilitator replied with, “Of course these conversations cannot only happen today. But if these conversations end after today, it is because people are choosing to go back to oblivion rather than continuing the conversation.”
We as DePauw students, faculty, and staff cannot allow these conversations to end and to go back into oblivion, where the issues do not exist or we choose to ignore them. This would continue the ‘business as usual’ mentality, and would deny many people of the importance of their identity. We must continue to be open to new perspectives, listen openly and respectfully, realize that other people’s perspectives are valid and welcome, take risks, and be honest. The Day of Dialogue is not something that can be only one day, that will not make our campus a more inclusive place. Dialogue needs to happen everyday before change can be made. That is not to say that there aren’t other steps that could be taken to address campus climate here, but it is an important and vital part.
Overall, I was pleased about the amount of planning and preparation that went into this year’s Day of Dialogue. The speaker was better, having break out groups with topics and facilitators was more productive (even if some of the discussions were better than others), and the day was majorly better executed than last year. Hopefully future Days of Dialogue will only continue to improve.