Macalester students returned to classes amidst an environment of change and political activism. The week began with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and closed with Donald Trump’s inauguration and subsequent nationwide women’s marches. The administration addressed these events with a series of Campus Conversations held last Thursday and Friday to “take pause and encourage dialogue and reflection about the state of our divided country and world,” as stated on the Mac website.
Professors provided their classrooms on the first two days of class to “offer open sessions based on their areas of interest and expertise.” In addition, several students and alumni contributed panels of their own. Topics were as diverse as environmental justice, public education and immigration.
Chaplains Kelly Stone and Ailya Vajid, Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee, Farah AlHaddad ’17, Gabriella Gillespie ’17, President Brian Rosenberg, and Professors Roopali Phadke and Julie Dolan all spoke at the event’s Opening Program on Thursday, welcoming students back and encouraging difficult conversations.
“This is the first time that I’ve seen Mac stuck,” Gillespie said. “So how do we move forward? To begin, we must truly listen to one another. We claim that we are listening, yet a significant amount of community members feel like they have not been heard.”
Gillespie encouraged students to move beyond their comfort zones to truly engage with each other.
“Talk to someone that looks different than you. Speak up in your classes. Go to an org meeting that falls completely out of your comfort zones,” she said. “Say hello to each other. Make eye contact and get off Facebook and take less screenshots. Instead of liking a post on Facebook, go to them and tell them you liked that post on Facebook!”
Rosenberg emphasized the importance of upholding Macalester’s goals of multiculturalism, internationalism and service in a world where they are “far from universally embraced priorities right now” under a president who he described as “unfit by virtue of character, intellect and policy.”
“We are certainly not perfect in carrying out the ideals of this community; no community is,” Rosenberg said. “One of the things I most admire about us is our willingness to acknowledge our imperfections and strive to be better. I do take the mission of this place very seriously and we all need to think very carefully about what it means.”
He also acknowledged the challenge of dealing with the rising tide of racism and xenophobia in the United States. “Maybe like a wound exposed to the air, there is something potentially healthy about revealing that, but we need to come to terms with it so we can make it better.”
The Music Department’s talk about Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed record To Pimp a Butterfly drew close to 50 attendees, while Visiting Professor Howard Sinker conducted a lively conversation on “How the Media Got it So Incredibly Wrong.”
Phadke and Dolan began planning this event in November. Dolan said she was struggling with how to keep her classes on-topic while addressing students’ concerns with current events.
“It’s been a hard couple of years. There have been a lot of awful things that have been happening in the United States, in the world more broadly,” Dolan said. “Post-election, the students in my classes clearly communicated that they wanted more space to have conversations: to have difficult conversations, to have frank conversations, to make things messy.”
“I tried hard to listen to what they were saying and thought, ‘Why can’t we create these spaces on campus more regularly?’” Dolan said.
Dolan said that she hopes students will continue to embrace challenging conversations over the course of the semester and over the coming years.
“These are conversations that are overdue, and it’s better to start now and to start collectively as a campus to send a message that this is something that’s worth doing.”