Does community matter?

By Harry Kent and Keith Edwards

This Tuesday, Community Matters held an open forum discussing the base question, Does Community Matter? Community Matters is a group composed of staff and students that organizes events around campus to foster dialogue about community issues at Macalester. About thirty people were able to attend the discussion, which began with a student, a staff member, and a professor sharing their experiences with community at Macalester. Participants were then asked three questions to discuss at lunch tables. They were asked: How have you felt connected to the Macalester community? How have you felt uncomfortable sharing your voice in the community? How would you like to engage with the community differently? Some recurring themes that came out of the dialogue included the role that an individual plays in both challenging and supporting a community, and what limits are placed on individuality within a community. Another theme brought through this discussion was the issue of individuals being afraid to engage a community on specific contested issues, due to a lack of experience with the topic. We also discussed how important it is to take the time to build trust within relationships that revolve around difference, or power structures. As members of the Community Matters planning team, we would like to offer some points to ponder that can foster further dialogue within the community. At a basic level, it is important that we are aware of how we discuss issues with others, especially because people may shy away from a discussion if attitudes within the conversation are not welcoming of an open dialogue. Discussion spaces should be places where community can be stronger with the opportunity for a variety of voices to be heard. Engagement, however, is a two-way street. Members at the forum discussed the importance of utilizing opportunities to be present in dialogues of communities where their views or opinions may not echo as strongly. Taking a proactive role in engaging and changing one’s community is more beneficial than shying away. Overall, participants at the forum acknowledged the challenges that they have faced, and still face within the Mac community, especially when discussion did not align with their own values. However, they also saw the value in being able to step outside one’s comfort zone as a means of furthering understanding within their own community and being able to stake a personal claim within the community. A lingering question that remains from this dialogue is how can we as a Macalester community foster community growth that is inclusive and empowering, while acknowledging our diverse identities and values?