Conversations offer a new perspective on diversity

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This fall, the Office of Multicultural Affairs offered Swatties a new way to approach the subject of diversity. The Diversity Conversation Series, the first program of its kind, offered a group on each of the topics of Race and Ethnicity, Religion and Spirituality, Social Class, and Sexual Orientation and Identity.

Interested students filled out an application ranking their interest in each topic and approximately 40 students from all four years were selected to participate. The groups began meeting last week and will meet once a week for four weeks for students to gather and discuss in small groups their beliefs and experiences regarding their particular subject.

Erin Floyd, a freshman participating in the conversation on Religion and Spirituality, was drawn to the series through a personal interest in discussing the subject. “Where I come from, it is a habit of going to church, not really a question. So it’s a nice change talking to people who want to know more about religion and spirituality,” she said.

The interest Floyd expressed in hearing what others have to say about issues is a major part of what the Diversity Conversation Series is about. “It requires that you listen in an active way and engage another person on why they think and hold a certain opinion,” Dean Darryl Smaw of the Office of Multicultural Affairs said.

Conversations are held in small groups and are facilitated by other students. It is the small group format of the series that Dean Smaw feels truly allows students to build the trust necessary to push past their comfort levels. “It [small groups] enables students to understand the difference and model the difference between dialogue and debating.”

The small group format does add to the overall atmosphere of the conversation, Floyd said. “It’s easier to talk in small group and there are less people who have to speak.” In regards to the series being student-led, Floyd added, “People are probably more comfortable with students their own age than with adults.”

Social Class was the most popular of the four conversation topics. When asked whether the appreciable difference in interest in the conversation on social class could be due to Swarthmore neglecting this specific issue of diversity, Dean Smaw nodded. “It could be. Social Class Awareness Month [November 2005] pointed out the interest amongst students. I was not surprised it was the most popular choice.”

This fall’s Diversity Conversation Series is a pilot program for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “Our goal is to have this as an on-going series,” Dean Smaw said. There are already plans to offer another series in the spring of 2007 on the same or additional topics. Student suggestions of new topics for the spring series are very possible. In addition to another series for students, due to the interest expressed by other members of the Swarthmore community at the series, there might a series providing similar dialogue for the faculty and staff of Swarthmore.

The goal of the series will not be achieved at the end of the four weeks of discussions. It will be, as Dean Smaw said, when we are “always reminded that all of us…have a responsibility for creating and sustaining a diverse living/learning community.”

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