The year 2014 will forever exist as a defining point for the national conversation about race in the United States. Its conflicts spawned Facebook rants, catalyzed rallies and riots, and galvanized dinner conversations and bus stop small talk. With our country’s legacy, race is a subject that most have and still do shy away from. If the topic is raised, it is most often to briefly remember the injustices of slavery and the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. In Bozeman, an academic town boasting cultural and intellectual diversity, we would like to believe that race-related issues are an artifact of previous centuries for our country and community. However, protests and violence in Ferguson, New York City, and Ohio cast a national shadow and tell a different story.
In this modern time of brisk conversation and even brisker tweets, it is so easy to repeat (or simply copy and paste) the narrow reports of your chosen mainstream media. We are quick to absorb these narratives as our truth; admittedly blind absorption is far easier than critical thought and productive conflict. In the wake of events in Ferguson, the same set of details was used to support converging conclusions ranging from the conclusion that we are living in a post-racial society and to the conclusion that people of color still are living under immense oppression. The incidents in Ferguson centered on race, but social, economic, and physical oppression is contingent on many identity characteristics. Locally, we see the oppression of our transgender neighbors, our female co-workers, and our Muslim and Native American peers. Similarly to Ferguson, our local conversation has been informed by impersonal news bites rather than with vulnerable, dynamic conversation. In order to understand and resolve these issues, along with issues of racial oppression, it is critical that we sit down and have meaningful and genuine discussions with those who have different life experiences than our own. It is the transformative power of dialogue that will make our campus, our community, and our nation more inclusive and safe environment for people of all identity groups.
Dialogue is a powerful, deliberate form of communication that emphasizes building personal connections and sharing personal experiences first before attempting to solve any conflicts that exist. It is a common misperception that the only people who should be at the dialogue table are those who are a part of minority or oppressed group. But in order for dialogue to be effective and transformative, people of both privileged and marginalized identities are necessary. Dialogue deepens our understanding of our personal identity while also building new relationships with people we may not otherwise connect with. Every experience that participants share has the power to inspire learning (and anger and frustration and excitement). When we begin with relationship building and sharing of personal experiences, better informed and more impactful community change is possible.
Bozeman has been surprisingly quiet in the national dialogue on race, but the potential for transformational dialogue about this issue and others exists on our campus. Sustained Dialogue (SD), a student organization, works towards creating a more inclusive campus for all by bringing students and community members together for intentional conversations about identity. SD hosts weekly dialogue groups that move from identity exploration to informed action. Additionally, SD presents public dialogues focusing on topics such as white privilege or racial and gender stereotypes perpetuated by Halloween costumes. Visit msusd.weebly.com to become a part of the conversation.