Advocating for better “listening skills” on campus, the Humanities Diversity Initiative (HDI) held its first meeting of the term in Sabin House on Monday. Students were invited to attend and engage in an empathy training session to better coexist among their peers and professors on campus.
According to co-chairs sophomores Miriam Thew Forrester and Emily Beale, it’s all part of a plan to improve relations between Lawrence students and faculty, and to increase diversity and inclusion at the university.
In an increasingly polarized society, students and staff at universities all across the country often find themselves at odds. The identities of minority students—whether it be based on nationality, race, sexuality or gender—are marginalized, or underrepresented by curriculum in many departments.
The humanities, which are based on language and experience, can be particularly susceptible to this: in language classes that feature gendered pronouns and classic literature classes with homogeneous writers on the syllabus.
The organization was the idea of several students, including fifth-year Deepankar Tripurana, who saw the reality of these kinds of issues at Lawrence. Tripurana and others noticed that when people feel underrepresented in their classes, it can create frustration and alienation on campus, leading to potential crises between students and faculty. They saw an opportunity to create a safe space for both students and staff to bring issues to light, resolving conflicts before they arise and fostering connections in the Lawrence community.
With this in mind, they formed HDI. The organization holds weekly meetings for students on Thursdays, and bi-weekly meetings for faculty members. The two groups have separate sessions. This allows discussions to be confidential and as comfortable as possible. The meetings themselves can take several different forms, including listening sessions, discussions, and listening skills training as in Monday’s meeting.
At the listening sessions, students are asked to simply share their experiences instead of debate a topic. At listening skills training, they learn how to be more attentive to one other.
The group also participates in on-campus events, such as a seminar on gender and language that was held last term. The event attempted to address some of the needs of non-binary students in the Humanities. In language courses with gendered pronouns, some people feel pressure to “out” themselves in class, which is uncomfortable. “Obviously, we can’t change the fact that there are gendered pronouns,” added Thew Forrester. “But we can try to come up with new solutions.”
Other events include the upcoming summit for Promoting Inclusion in Academia through Dialogue, which will be held on January 20 in the Warch Campus Center in the Somerset Room. All Lawrence University diversity organizations, including HDI, will be planning and participating in the summit.
For those students who feel marginalized in their classes, Beale and Thew Forrester stated that a great solution is to come to an HDI meeting. Meeting times can vary, but are regularly updated on the group’s Facebook page.
“Not only is it safe,” said Beale, “but we also have a lot of connections with the faculty. Even if one professor doesn’t come to our meetings, we can use the faculty involved to contact others. Because of this, we essentially have access to the whole staff.”