Darby Lacey makes a significant impact at Sustained Dialogue

Darby Lacey is graduating this May, but she’s leaving behind a big mark on the MSU community.

Lacey grew in up Great Falls, enjoying the outdoors and planning to attend a college on the east coast for her undergraduate degree. Nevertheless, when she visited Bozeman for a scholarship interview, she was drawn to the mountains and academics of Montana State. She came to MSU on the Provost Scholarship, originally as an industrial engineering major.

However, Lacey soon switched to a major in English literature with a minor in biochemistry, finding her passion there. The degree has led to a variety of experiences from performing Shakespeare flash-mobs to analyzing the poetry of World War I. “With literary texts, you get what people were experiencing at that time, which makes it more powerful,” Lacey explained. “So much significance can be added to an event by writing a poem about an experience, instead of just stating what happened.”

In addition to her studies, Lacey serves as program coordinator for Sustained Dialogue, a student organization within the Diversity Awareness Office. The program brings together students, faculty, staff and Bozeman community members to have meaningful conversations about identity. The dialogues cover the “Big 8” of identity: race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, age and ability status.

Traditionally, the program works through weekly dialogues run by two trained moderators. The group begins by sharing experiences about different aspects of identity, working to find where there are conflicts in their community. By the end of the semester, they focus on creating an action plan to address those issues. This year, the program also conducted a ‘Common Ground’ training, in which 30 students spent three days at the Rockhaven Retreat Center to discuss issues of identity.   

Lacey got involved with the program her sophomore year through happenstance by wandering into a moderator training. Lacey said of the program, “I used to avoid talking to people about difficult things, and now I feel like I found this community of people who are trying to make our world more wonderful and welcoming for everyone.”

Lacey was a moderator at Sustained Dialogue for one year, and has been the program coordinator for two years. She works on recruiting, putting on trainings and working with other student organizations to make their spaces more inclusive. She has trainings with groups across campus, such as the Agricultural Ambassadors, University Seminar classes and dorm floors, as well as partnering with organizations with common goals.

Her work has not been without challenges: “Dialogue only works with lots of diverse perspectives in the room, and many people think MSU isn’t diverse. Though we might not have a lot of racial diversity, that doesn’t mean that other types of diversity don’t exist,” Lacey said.

Having spent so much of her time working with the program, Lacey feels it has enriched her educational experience here. “Stories are how we make meaning in the world, and without stories, our lives aren’t as meaningful and rich,” Lacey said. “I love the stories that get turned into incredible pieces of language, but I think the stories we tell each other from person to person are just as important. Sustained Dialogue creates a place for people to tell their story.”

In addition, Lacey has volunteered at Eagle Mount, an organization that works to provide recreational opportunities for people with disabilities and young people with cancer, mentoring participants in snowshoeing, ice-skating, swimming and skiing. She can otherwise be found enjoying the outdoors, skiing, fly-fishing and backpacking.

Lacey is taking a year off before returning to school for a doctorate in literature, and plans to focus her research on identity and how multiples of identity intersect. She will be applying to programs on the east coast, meanwhile enjoying Montana for a little while longer and working to solve problems of identity in Bozeman.

As for students just beginning or continuing their experience at MSU, Lacey said, “There are communities and interest groups for everyone here. Finding the places where you can find people and connect with them is most important, and you can find that adventure at MSU.”