As a way to exchange personal stories and come to a better understanding of fellow Lawrence students, a Community Conversation was held in the Pusey Room last Wednesday, April 25. Around 15 students, facilitators and members of the administration attended the event.
The conversation was part of a multi-pronged approach by the administration to address the controversy around Cabaret several weeks ago over the showing of the Tibetan flag. Tibet is a region in southwest China that can be a sensitive area of discussion for many international Lawrentians.
Other parallel responses have included one-on-one conversations, counseling and a variety of discussions led by different departments of the administration.
In order to respect the privacy of the attendees, the reporter was not present at the discussion on Wednesday itself.
Last Wednesday’s conversation was designed by Reverend Dr. Linda Morgan-Clement with the help of Gabriel Baker, a student and certified facilitator.
Dr. Morgan-Clement is Lawrence’s first Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life who has been working here since the summer of 2016. At her previous post at the College of Wooster, Morgan-Clement created an inter-faith ministry and is working towards something similar for Lawrence University.
Morgan-Clement picked up the Community Conversation program two and a half years ago after the, now-disbanded, Gay Lesbian Or Whatever (GLOW) club released a list of demands for the administration. While these demands did not directly call for Community Conversations, they did seem to inspire a multi-level by the administration to make the campus a safer space for all students.
According to Morgan-Clement, she strives to hold several Community Conversations each term along with her team of trained facilitators. Morgan-Clement said that, while at first it was difficult to get commitment from Lawrence students, they have now reached their goal of having one-third certified facilitators from the faculty, one-third from the students and one-third from the campus staff.
Baker and Morgan-Clement explained that before each conversation, the team spends a great deal of time constructing the conversation, so the discussion can be as healthy as possible. Topics can be on general things of interest or, as was the case on Wednesday, can be specifically designed in the wake of a controversial issue on campus.
However, the team often allow the discourse to be developed organically by the attendees themselves. Usually, the conversation includes some opportunity to share personal stories, which can be an emotional yet healing experience. For Dr. Morgan-Clement, it is “always mind-blowing how powerful story-sharing is.”
It seems to be characteristic of controversial issues that arise at Lawrence that much like an earthquake, the event that sparks the controversy is but a moment, strikingly brief. However, the fallout can last much longer, birthing a seemingly unending procession of official forums, discussions and sessions from different pockets of the administration.
This, perhaps, is meant to account for the issue’s true aftershocks, the bitterness that can simmer and curdle in the hearts of those involved, surfacing later in ways that are as toxic as they are surprising.
It is for this reason that Dr. Morgan Clement doesn’t see “fatigue” as a particularly pressing issue for the Community Conversation program. As students react to stress and controversy in different ways, they will undoubtedly benefit from different forms of support. Some students that attended the conversation on Wednesday may not have gone to a counseling session, or vice versa.
For Baker, the opportunity to become a certified facilitator has been an opportunity to use his personal experiences and leadership skills to help the Lawrence community.
“The conversation is good,” said Baker, “because it can help clarify misunderstandings. If dialogue helps people find the answer from themselves then it was worth it.”