The Student Government Association (SGA) Diversity Committee holds regular events on campus. Often when students attend these discussions, talks or dinners, they gravitate towards people they know and discuss familiar topics. This was not the case, however, during a recent intercultural dinner. What was different—a pleasant surprise, really—was the insistence on structure. From the random assigned seating (based on a simple process of different colored ribbons given to random people) to the questions provided, this dinner forced me to expand upon my usual dinner conversation.
I sat at a table with five students, a member of the Connecticut College staff and a professor. At the table next to me sat President Bergeron, amongst students and staff members. Each table was evenly divided between staff members, professors and students. Every class year was represented around the tables. It was jarring to see: We were all a part of the same College community, but each of us played a unique role on our campus.
But what were we going to talk about? The chair of the SGA Diversity Committee laid out some basic guidelines for how she envisioned the dinner to proceed.
First guideline: Introduce yourself.
Second guideline: Look around at the pieces of paper placed on the center of your table, pick one at random and read it out loud.
Third guideline: Talk about it.
The professor at the table took charge of the discussion, making sure all of us spoke of our experiences and were heard. It was interesting to say the least. The staff and faculty brought their experience with local- and college-based issues to the discussion, but their presence was also restrictive in a way. I wanted to challenge some of Connecticut College’s policies, and having staff and professors around me made me feel as if I couldn’t do that openly. While I benefited from hearing diverse views at the dinner, sometimes the collective conversation lingered on the finer nuances of certain topics.
In retrospect, talking to people you disagree with or don’t know is infinitely more interesting than preaching to a choir. I guess the event made me uncomfortable—and that was one of the goals.