Dialogue at Deering draws dozens to discuss identity, race

Shane McKeon, Assistant Campus Editor

After a year shaped by a national reexamination of American race relations, more than 50 people gathered on Deering Meadow to discuss issues of identity at the third Dialogue at Deering event Friday.

Through activities, one-on-one conversations and small group discussions, attendees explored identity and race on campus and beyond.

The event was sponsored by Sustained Dialogue, a program that brings together groups of about 10 students for weekly discussions on issues such as gender, class and race.

SESP senior Sarah Carthen Watson, a co-founder of Sustained Dialogue, spoke at the beginning of the event.

She alluded to racially-charged incidents that spurred the first iteration of Dialogue at Deering during her freshman year.

“It seemed like every couple weeks there was some incident that happened that was continually dividing campus,” she said.

In January 2012, a Latina student said she was harassed because of her race by students who shouted at her in Spanish. Later, in April of that year, Ski Team apologized for hosting a “Beer Olympics” party where some students wore costumes including Native American headdresses and references to apartheid-era South Africa.

Watson noted that before Sustained Dialogue, discussions about identity occurred in “pockets” of campus, but students generally weren’t engaging with peers outside their immediate social circles.

Michele Enos, assistant director for Campus Inclusion and Community, said the event and, more broadly, Sustained Dialogue serve as spaces for those conversations.

“(Students aren’t) talking about this in the classroom. They’re not discussing their identities with their friends,” she told The Daily. “This is an opportunity to talk about these sort of things and to learn from one another.”

Organizers had participants listen to a statement and place themselves on a spectrum between “agree” and “disagree.” Statements for the activity included “I feel a part of the Northwestern community,” “I consider myself privileged” and “Overall, I believe this campus is a racist one.”

Attendees then counted off by five and split up for small-group discussions.

Enos said the ultimate goal of Sustained Dialogue is to take action on the issues discussed.

“But even if we don’t get to a tangible action,” she told The Daily, “there’s a lot of people being impacted and changed just from learning from one another.”

McCormick senior Aaron Orwasher, who is not involved with Sustained Dialogue but attended the event, said he has followed racially-charged controversies on campus throughout his time at NU.

Much has changed since his freshman year, he said.

“There were these incidents but not many forums to discuss them in,” he told The Daily. “Today, there are.”

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Twitter: @Shane_McKeon