In light of recent events, both on campus and across the country, the latest Campus Conversation discussed how students can respond to opposition, both in words and actions.
Shai Pina, who’s married to Vice President of Student Affairs Jason Pina, and John Schmieding, the director of the Athens Area Mediation Service, led the discussion.
Pina said her goal for the event was to encourage effective conversation about diversity, starting with the role the community can play in the discussion. She emphasized the learning process that enables such conversations to take place.
“As an educator, what I think about when I’m working with my students, especially the really, really difficult kids, is that I’m planting a seed,” Pina said. “I may not see the fruits of that labor, but hopefully someone, some teacher in the future or some employer, or person in that child’s life will see the growth.”
To illustrate the necessity of effective listening, Pina and Schmieding engaged the audience in a listening exercise in which audience members broke into groups and were asked to listen to the other participants without any interruption.
“It’s such a good and powerful thing and the only bad thing is we’re kinda bad at (listening),” Schmieding said.
The moderators agreed that the more controversial the opinion, the harder it is to listen. This only makes the listening even more important, according to Schmieding, because many people enter difficult conversations with assumptions culminated as a result of personal experiences.
“Sometimes if we’re feeling like we’ve really struggled, that we aren’t as good as other people, we might start putting other people down,” he said.
In addition to listening, Pina and Schmieding stressed personal engagement as one of the best ways to find the deeper message and encourage acceptance.
To that effect, Schmieding shared one of his own experiences with a young man who felt a personal attachment to the confederate flag. After refusing to put the flag away, the man struck up a conversation with Schmieding about why it was so important to him. It turned out he had problems in his own life, and that was why he needed that specific symbol.
“Maybe you should find another symbol,” a friend, who overheard, said at the end of the conversation.
The speakers ended their conversation with a reflection on why events like the Campus Conversation are important in addressing difficult topics.
“It’s always nice to have an opportunity to sit and talk with people and try to figure out how we tackle these situations; because in the moment…we usually don’t have the words on what to do, and also having the different perspectives and how to handle it is really helpful,” Pina said.