From academic buildings to College Houses, and athletic facilities to the libraries, it was a common question in almost every corner of the Franklin & Marshall campus on Oct. 5:
“What sessions did you attend?”
The answers could have been “What Our Genes Tell Us About Race and Connectedness,” “Interfaith Speed Dating” or “The Psychology of Inclusion and Identity.” They might have included “Representation of Race in the Media,” “The Philosophy of Implicit Bias” or “Voicing the Unspoken.” Or any combination of 43 group discussions held on a day that encouraged us to ask: What does it mean to be a member of the F&M community? How does this identity, which we all share, interact with the other identities we bring with us, those we acquire while we are here, and those we hold privately? How do we understand ourselves in the context of our history and our future?
The questions—and their answers—helped define F&M’s Day of Dialogue, a campus-wide series of events designed to reexamine the College’s efforts to promote inclusion and diversity while finding strength in its long-valued sense of community. The College rescheduled classes to free up a full day to allow students, faculty members and professional staff to participate in sessions around campus and openly discuss topics related to identity and community on a 21st-century liberal arts campus. Almost all sessions attracted standing-room-only crowds.
The day came 25 years after F&M held a campus conversation—the original “Day of Dialogue”—about cultural, racial and religious differences.
“The conversation that began in 1991 has never ceased, but the level of engagement has to be raised periodically,” said Professor of Sociology Katherine McClelland, who was one of the leaders of the first “Day of Dialogue” and an organizer of the 2016 program. “Twenty-five years later, we are a far more diverse community, and these issues are even more important.”
More than 1,000 members of the campus community attended the day’s kickoff event with Dr. Beverly Tatum, a clinical psychologist, past president of Spelman College and author of the acclaimed book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” She engaged in a morning discussion of diversity issues with College President Daniel R. Porterfield, faculty, staff and students.
“The conversations we have around campus today might be difficult,” Tatum predicted. “It’s like exercising after not doing so for a while. You might be sore the first time, but each time after that will be a bit easier.”
“This is about who we are and who we hope to become,” Porterfield said during the discussion with Tatum. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it make a statement to devote a day to defining our community?’ We’re all partners in creating a great school and a great society… At the foreground are the issues of identity and community. We want these sessions to make us thirsty for more.”
F&M’s Day of Dialogue continued a national conversation about race and diversity in which F&M engaged last year after some students posted racially offensive comments on an anonymous online platform. Porterfield called for a sustained discussion of race and inclusion, and F&M has since organized and promoted a series of events on these themes.
A group of faculty members, professional staff and students organized the Day of Dialogue, with a sub-group of faculty and staff working over the summer to flesh out the details. Discussion sessions, proposed by members of the campus community, touched on numerous aspects of diversity, including social class, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality and disability as well as identities acquired on campus.
A highlight of the day was took place at lunch, when an estimated 1,700 members of the F&M community were randomly assigned to “open spaces”—places on campus not normally visited by students, faculty and staff unassociated with a particular Greek house, to student club or religiously affiliated space.
“The day’s activities surpassed all expectations,” said Stephanie McNulty, chair of the planning committee and associate professor of government. “The sessions created a space in which members of the F&M community gathered to explore the ways in which we can reimagine our community through a better understanding of our diversity, our commonalities and our relationships with one another.”
In a preliminary survey conducted by McClelland, 49 percent of students reported that they think differently about the F&M community as a result of the day’s activities. Fifty-six percent talked about something during the day they had never discussed at F&M, and 80 percent participated in a discussion with someone they had never spoken to in the past.
We asked six students who participated in the Day of Dialogue about their experience, and about what the discussion of inclusivity at F&M means to them:
Jabari Benjamin ’19
I come from a black and Hispanic community, and I’ve been going to majority black schools since elementary school. How I talk, walk, eat, argue, etc., has been the product of this upbringing. My life has been completely and holistically embedded in my culture, so much so that I couldn’t fathom any other way of life.
My view of the outside world and everything that fell outside my community was largely influenced by what I saw on TV. There’s nothing wrong with saying I was ignorant because I was; I was ignorant and biased, and I’ve been that way for most of my life. We all grew up with a bias that affects how we see certain people and how we handled certain issues.
That’s why Day of Dialogue was so surprising to me. Because for the first time since I went to India four years ago, I felt as if I was surrounded by hundreds of people I’ve never thought to talk to or befriend. I heard stories from members of all races that broke my heart, and I saw real progress in the form of talking, crying and even laughing. Our greatest problem is that in our everyday life, we are not confronted with real moments for progress because everyone around us usually believes what we believe.
Even at Franklin & Marshall, despite my best efforts to branch out by coming to a school vastly different from both my upbringing and my reality, I still gradually floated to people whose experience matched mine. This is normal and expected, but just because it’s the norm doesn’t mean we should conform to it. Day of Dialogue was truly successful to me because for many (not all, but many) this was the first time they really sat down and listened to a Republican, or a child from a single household family, or an All Lives Matter/Black Lives Matter advocate.
For one day, despite all that’s been going on, for a few brief hours we got to sit down and listen without the pressure of regurgitating what we hear for a test or participation credit. For one day, we got to listen simply for the sake of learning and broadening our knowledge in the hopes of improving on a micro-level this campus and on a macro level the world. That is progress, Day of Dialogue was progress and the question I want to leave everyone with is: What now? What’s next?
Raven Charleston ’17
Toward the end of the summer, I was asked to be a part of the student research team for the Day of Dialogue, not understanding what exactly I was getting myself into. Honored by the invitation and grateful for any research experience, I eagerly agreed and along with three other students, we dove into the work. Basically, we were asked to research the history of the college based on race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, nationality and disability. The four of us then divided the categories so we could share the work evenly and all work on topics important to us. I worked personally with gender, race and sexuality. We were given a general, “Look at these things,” but the culmination of our findings was up to us.
We all thought right away that a timeline made the most sense to show the changes that took place across all the years Franklin College and Marshall College existed. Being more visual and less analytical myself, I wanted to create something that would first draw someone’s eye and invoke a reaction. Our research team, Luke Groff, Nadia Johnson, and Isabel Monge and myself, all agreed we wanted our exhibit to be informative as well as visually inviting. Our research varied from connecting to alumni and former faculty to searching through the archives and reading excerpts from the school’s oldest articles and pamphlets. Along the way we gathered valuable information in the form of raw data, anecdotes, and visuals.
The final result was an exhibit that included posters, portraits, and two twenty foot mobile timelines. Our session for the day, “F&M: Diversity Through Time,” followed after Beverly Tatum’s dialogue with President Porterfield and was a big success. We were able to explain our findings and share some more of the anecdotal stories we gathered throughout our research and then were able to take a step back and just watch everyone engage in discussion about what it all meant. My favorite part was seeing folks’ expressions when we explained exactly what the mobiles represented. They were a perfect catalyst for conversations on the contemporary issues regarding diversity on campus and provided a basis for where to go from here. The exhibit displayed the slow and steady changes made in throughout the history of the college, but most importantly it inspired hope for the continuous increase of diversity and equality on campus that is already more visible today than it was even a decade ago.
Coral Bello ’20
My first day of college was a complete culture shock. I was raised in Harlem and currently live in the Bronx, two places that are predominantly populated by people of color. New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world, so I grew up accepting others as they came regardless of skin color, sexuality, religion and more. Coming to F&M made me realize that not every place will welcome diversity with ease. Not every place will make your oddities feel normal. Not every place will embrace differences right away.
In the month leading up to Day of Dialogue, I spent the days locked in my room. I barely interacted with anyone. I felt unwanted in a community where people seemed to keep to their own comfort zones. However, when Day of Dialogue came around, I was stunned to see the turnout in the sessions that I attended concerning feminism, Latinidad, and natural hair. The conversations had and the dialogue facilitated by students demonstrated that there is a greater community here at F&M that is ready and willing to have these tough conversations regarding prevalent issues in our society. I finally felt welcome. I finally felt as though I was meant to be here too.
However, not all is fairies and unicorns just yet. We have a lot more work to do especially now that so many minorities feel their safety being threatened in the midst of much political turmoil. Day of Dialogue was a step in the right direction, but it is our responsibility to not let those conversations die off. In a time with much separation we must all come together and make others feel welcome, just as I came to feel on that day. It starts with dialogue, but it must lead to action if we want to create the change we want to see.
Ryan Tabris ’18
I realized that I didn’t really understand what the Day of Dialogue was about until it was already over. I was expecting to enter sessions that would give people the opportunity to have direct conversation about issues that were affecting the campus with individuals who held opposing viewpoints. As the day went on I began to see that there were far less opposing viewpoints than I expected, and the focus wasn’t exactly on direct discussion either. I, and many other students, felt as though this was a letdown. People were not, in all cases, given the opportunity to engage in the meaningful dialogue that they expected to. I think that this feeling of discontent is misguided, and stems from a misunderstanding of what the Day of Dialogue was built to accomplish.
During the opening conversation with Beverly Tatum, I remember President Porterfield saying that dialogue cannot be confined to a single point in time. He urged the community to take this Day of Dialogue and turn it into a week of dialogue, a month of dialogue, a year of dialogue, and so on. I now see that this is what the Day of Dialogue is all about. This was an opportunity and a call for members of the community to become informed on the issues that affected the people that they are surrounded by. This day was about building a strong, communal foundation of understanding that will allow dialogue to flourish among informed individuals on our campus.
We should not be thinking of the Day of Dialogue as a singular, finite event, but as the beginning of a period of increased learning and inclusivity in the Franklin & Marshall community.
Yousra Chaabane ’19
As an international student at Franklin & Marshall College, I’m incredibly grateful for having been given the opportunity to represent my fellow international students whilst facilitating a discussion at the Day of Dialogue.
When the Day of Dialogue was announced, members of the international student advisory board immediately knew that this was an incredible opportunity to approach the ongoing conversation at F&M about diversity from an international student perspective. Even though international students make up around 17 percent of the student body, we had yet to have a campus-wide discussion on the issues that we face and the problems with which we struggle.
From language barriers to Homecoming to having international faculty, many ideas, questions and suggestions crossed the room. People explored these ideas, challenged and debated. It was amazing to see the turnout of students, faculty and professional staff, which in itself was a statement from the F&M community that there is an eagerness to learn, understand and explore. Overall, it was clear that many participants were not just there to share but also to genuinely demonstrate interest and to ask the questions that they may have otherwise held inside.
I personally found that the discussion raised many different concerns and problems but even more solutions and initiatives that we as board aim to develop and implement. In general, it was a fruitful discussion that raised awareness about the importance of intercultural understanding and the effect of celebrating difference, rather than accepting it.
I am looking forward to continuing our dialogue regarding international students and our place within the F&M family.
Kianna Wirts ’17
During the day of dialogue, I presented a rough draft of my senior thesis film at a session titled “Representation of Race in the Media.” As president of the Black Student Union (BSU), I thought this would be a great session to lead with other members of my executive board. The room was packed with about 140 people who learned about the representation of race in journalism from Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Ashley Rondini, about social media from BSU’s event coordinator Jael Lewis ’18, and about film and television from me.
My project, named “BECKY,” focuses on a black woman’s privilege—or the lack thereof—versus a white woman’s privilege. It speaks out about where women of color stand with the white feminism. Whose movement is this really? What is not being talked about? Last semester, when I took film history, I realized that we didn’t learn about the contribution women of color have made to the film industry. As a film major and a black woman, I really wanted to make some kind of difference, even by reaching a handful of people.
I reached out to Keyla Ynoa ’19 and asked if I could use her voice to read one of her spoken-word poems in my project; I thought the film would have more impact if we had different women of color mouthing Keyla’s words. I filmed 32 F&M students, who each mouthed a line in the poem. The black-and-white close ups force you to look in their eyes, feel our pain and listen to the words. The moments when some white people may feel uncomfortable are moments that I believe signal growth.
If we used adversity properly we can grow through adversity. I believe everyone in that room left with a better understanding or learned something. I know I learned something during the Q&A. A white student, who plays baseball, said the session helped him realize that there should be more people of color in Major League Baseball. One of my points was that role models matter. He picked up on that concept and applied it to sports. I never thought about it that way, but if you think about it that why more young men of color want to become basketball players, not because it’s a cheap sport to play, but because there are more role models.
If there were more women of color making films or winning medals for the Olympic gymnastics team, more young girls would have someone to look up to and something to aspire to. I thank Shonda Rhimes, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Julie Dash and a few others for the work they do, because they’re the inspiration for me to believe making films is possible.
Many people said they loved my film or cried watching it. I hope I can make more films to inspire more women of color interested in filmmaking or make people realize that representation of race in any field truly matters.
F&M'S Day of Dialogue By the Numbers
83 faculty members, professional staff and students participated in three facilitator training sessions
MORE THAN 675 people attended facilitated breakfast sessions to kick off the day
1,700 people participated in the “open spaces” lunch
MORE THAN 750 people attended
a celebratory tailgate, with performances from five student group
THE DAY OF DIALOGUE APP was downloaded by at least 1,022 people, who opened it a total of 23,702 times
“I’ll remember the opening ceremony with Dr. Beverly Tatum and President Porterfield —the Q&A about privilege, and how they both faced different obstacles.”
“I was a student panelist with the Muslim Student Association. I was amazed and surprised by the interest people showed.”
“It didn’t leave a strong impression. It wasn’t the first time F&M has tried something like this. But it’s a step forward in the right direction.”
“It helped normalize and set the tone for difficult conversa- tions. Once you’ve had a difficult conversation, the next one is easier.”