Creating and maintaining space for conversations

By Tinbete Ermyas

When my eleventh grade physics teacher told our class “Space was the place” I had no idea what she was talking about. I knew that she probably in her own crazy way, thought that we should all leave this earth and move to Space as a means to escape the ills that plague our world—or maybe she just really liked the way that Space and place rhymed. Whatever the reason, I’m sure she thought her theories were out of this world.

But reminiscing on my high school years has really made my think about space and Macalester—namely the spaces that I occupy. Contemplating the idea of space at Macalester made me think about the Cultural House and what an important part of my experience it has been here.

Why, you ask, has it been so vital to my Macalester experience? Well, because it is the one place that I (and many others) feel comfortable talking about difficult issues ranging from identity development on college campuses to the implications of Angelina Jolie’s Oscar dress.

But aside from the conversations that have occurred within this space, I also acknowledge that the Cultural House is an important space to do programming through the Department of Multicultural Life. This year, the Department has revamped the C-House to a new level of being a safe space. The Department of Multicultural Life has really created and maintained community.

And for me that’s out of this world.

But space doesn’t necessarily have to be physical. This column, for example, has been a great way for me (and for the rest of the Macalester community, I hope) to engage issues of multiculturalism (or lack thereof) at Macalester.

Sure, my column hasn’t always been perfect. And believe me, those of you who have thought so were sure to let me know. But my decision to take on this column was much like that of the Department of Multicultural Life taking over the Cultural House—not necessarily to make everyone happy, but to ensure that there is a conversation of multiculturalism happening.

I think that this is the main point of a safe space for conversation: not necessarily to have a particular conversation about a particular issue in a particular manner, but to have a conversation. Period.

When I began writing for The Mac Weekly, I felt the need to change the name of the column from Quietly and Mostly to Myself to From the Margin to the Center as a means of acknowledging that Macalester is a much different space from what it was 20 years ago. And though I feel that Macalester is backtracking to the days of yesteryear, many people—via e-mail or though conversation—have disagreed with me, and that’s fine, as long as they found some way and some space to have a conversation with me.

But as the year comes to an end, I can’t help but wonder where Macalester will go with the conversation about multiculturalism and the effect this will have on certain spaces.

I hope that we can do it in a positive way, for Macalester’s sake, both as an institution of higher learning and as a transformative space for the ways in which we see the world.

This year has taught me that at the risk of sounding as crazy as my physics teacher, space is an important concept when attempting to understand the world around us. Sometimes the most important part of attempting to create change is the very space in which you attempt to initiate that change.

For me, certain spaces have always been vital to the ways in which I personally engage my thoughts on multiculturalism and its link to social change at Macalester. Sure, both the Cultural House and this column are different. But much like my high school physics teacher, I guess I use the concept of this space as a means to escape the ills that plague the world around me. And that’s the concept that will keep these two spaces constantly linked to time at Macalester.

And it is for this reason that I feel blessed to have written this year for The Mac Weekly and to have helped run the Cultural House. I am almost certain that I will retreat back to these spaces from time to time in order to escape the challenges that Macalester presents me. Or perhaps I will find brand new spaces in which I can engage with the constant questioning that I so often do.

But what I do feel that matters is that there have been spaces—period—to state how I feel and to try to answer the questions that are constantly being asked of me.

And for me, it’s truly been out of this world.

Tinbete Ermyas ’08 is the editor of the “From the Margin to the Center” column for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact him at [email protected]