Second 'Change and Exchange' continues 'difficult dialogues'

By Hannah Haley

In the second Dialogue on Community Change and Exchange, President Brian Rosenberg invited participants to share personal stories that explored successful ways to engage in difficult dialogue. The event was held last Saturday in Kagin Commons and continued the dialogue that began last year in response to the “politically incorrect party.””There are issues and differences central to Mac’s community. There are race, class, political and geographical differences. At the heart of the dialogue is how we deal with those who are different than us,” Rosenberg said.

The event brought together a group of students, faculty and staff to explore techniques for engaging in difficult dialogues and facilitate new connections between the participants. This year’s discussion on Feb. 2 was organized to “emphasize the importance of extending the use of dialogue to create action for community change,” Dean of Multicultural Life and organizing committee member Tommy Woon said.

The event was born last year as a forum to provide the campus community with an “important opportunity to reflect together on a variety of controversial events. and to inquire about the perceptions and realities of multiculturalism at Mac,” Woon said.

The “politically incorrect party,” a party hosted by a group of Macalester students during J-term in January 2007 and later investigated by the Macalester College Harassment Committee, prompted last year’s student initiated and faculty and administration supported week of Change and Exchange.

“We want people from a variety of perspectives to be able to make those perspectives known and strike a balance where we can all feel safe but also experience creative discomfort,” Rosenberg said in his opening remarks.

The event was about “increasing the capacity to have difficult dialogues,” Woon said. He encouraged participants to share stories about their own challenging interactions with people in which they were able to maintain civility.

Woon also identified promoting appreciative inquiry to complement critical inquiry as a goal of the discussion.

Franz Meyer ’09, MCSG president and a member of the organizing committee, said the discussion was a forum for inter-group dialogue.

“The Macalester community is very diverse and this event facilitated new connections between students, faculty and staff who would not normally meet each other,” Meyer said.

The event highlighted the “need to sustain dialogue about race and ethnicity in particular and inter-group relations in general,” Laurie Hamre, Vice President for Student Affairs and an organizing member said. She noted that parts of the program were also designed to “address the recent student conversations related to ‘Safe Space’ on campus.”

Participants were encouraged to identify topics for difficult dialogues to be continued throughout the year in self-organized groups.

“One of the things that was unfortunate about last year’s Change and Exchange event was that the conversations were never continued and that’s something we hope to remedy this time around,” organizing committee member Josh Jorgensen ’08 said.