Our university’s core values include Dialogue, so it’s natural that in the wake of two difficult issues (pandemic and civil unrest in support of Black Lives Matter), we would intentionally create space for conversation and model listening, relationship, and caring collaboration.
The two Town Hall events were designed to center first student voices and experiences, and then faculty voices and experiences. “Centering” the experience of others, especially vulnerable or marginalized populations, is best practice in dialogue, activism, education, and social justice work. Our students learn these values and skills in their course work; the public town hall setting gave us a chance to model and demonstrate these capacities in a more inclusive and diverse setting, including alumni, family members of students, and board members.
In the first Town Hall, three students provided their perspective, answering, “How are you feeling? And what are you doing?” in the new realities of quarantine, increased anxiety, and civic engagement. Break-out sessions with participation from every attendee were the highlight for many. After learning from the student panelists, we practiced listening, speaking from our own experiences, and sharing commonalities. We also incorporated mindfulness practices, particularly as a tool to help prevent anxiety and burn-out.
In the second Town Hall, two faculty members followed the students’ lead, answering “How are you feeling? And what are you doing?” to articulate their own social locations and personal/professional responses to various crises and opportunities for healing. Again, everyone participated in break-out sessions after hearing from faculty, and participants shared in feedback during the Town Hall, after the Town Hall, and through the survey that both sessions were incredibly moving, inspiring, generative, and provided key examples of how to practice anti-racist education and collaboration.
Finally, we heard from the majority of participants (including students, alumni, staff, board members, and family members of these stakeholders) that there is a deep hunger for continued conversation, education, opportunities for practice, and places for listening and support. We are committed to continuing this work, and providing invitations to everyone in our extended community for relationship, practice, and positive social change.