The MSU campus is home to many different backgrounds, races and worldviews. Sometimes those world views collide, but MSU Sustained Dialogue seeks to use that diversity to make campus stronger. The program is a student-run organization affiliated with the national network based in Washington, D.C.
Sustained Dialogues was founded by concerned students, including former Student Body President Kiah Abbey, after hateful comments were aimed toward Middle Eastern exchange students. The organization holds weekly dialogues, staff training and lecture-based discussions that seek to address taboo issues.
Their mission statement seeks to achieve campus-wide strength by “bridging gaps between traditionally opposing groups. Sustained conversations will encourage and embrace diversity, resulting in actions that are deliberate, thoughtful and enduring.”
Weekly discussion groups are currently not open to the public, but at the beginning of the year students were invited to join one. The weekly dialogues were created as an opportunity “to make lasting change on campus” by first discussing various topics of identity and then brainstorming meaningful action on such issues.
Additionally, the student and faculty training focuses on how to create productive debate and discussion about topics no one wants to address. It also helps members of the MSU campus have the tools to deal with diversity in a productive manner and fight stereotypes. Abbey mentioned that this training aims to “critically examine stereotypes and assumptions.”
The first public dialogue which occurred on Tuesday, January 28, was titled, “White State: Unpacking White Privilege in Montana” and tackled a topic with which many students at MSU have a firsthand experience. Abbey commented on the attendance of this project, “Although we have been impressed with the quality and commitment of our participants, we would still like to see more students involved in our weekly dialogues. We understand the weekly commitment can sometimes be daunting, but we really want to impress upon students the quality of the dialogue and participants they will encounter.” Abbey added, “It’s addicting!”
The last lecture titled “(UN)Common Ground: Place-Based Identity Dialogue” happened on Tuesday, April 5 and had higher attendance rates. Dr. Nora Smith, assistant dean in the College of Agriculture, spoke about issues relating with a woman’s role in the community and how her physical strength is a necessary part of what is considered a Montanan identity. The beginning of her talk was focused on further defining the concepts, history and etymology of the word “home.”
The Office of the President and the Provost have committed to funding the project for three years, and in the future, the student founders want to see this program continue to grow. One to two public dialogues per semester have been planned with higher attendance goals of ten or more students at each talk.
Future student body vice president, Jordan Garceau commented, “Both of us [Destini French and Garceau] love Sustained Dialogue and are impressed by their growth across our campus community in the past few years.” Garceau added, “As we go into the next school year, we are excited to watch Sustained Dialogue continue to grow and impact our campus in even greater ways.”