Twenty-five years ago, Franklin & Marshall College celebrated commonality and diversity by launching a campus conversation about cultural, racial and religious differences known as the "Day of Dialogue."
On Oct. 5, F&M will again conduct a campuswide "Day of Dialogue," this time to re-examine the College's diversity and efforts to promote inclusion while finding strength in the College's long-valued sense of community.
"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 is again one of the organizers of the 2016 program.
A highlight of the day is an appearance by Dr. Beverly Tatum, a clinical psychologist and past president of Spelman College, the oldest black liberal arts school for women, and author of the acclaimed book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" She will engage in a morning discussion of diversity issues with College President Daniel R. Porterfield, faculty, staff and students.
F&M’s "Day of Dialogue" continues a national conversation about race and diversity that F&M engaged in last year when students expressed concern over perceived racial bias at the College. Porterfield called for an unvarnished discussion of race and inclusion.
"As a liberal arts college, Franklin & Marshall faculty, staff and students are always in dialogue to reach a greater understanding of ourselves," Porterfield said. "This process is what we value for learning and growing and progressing."
Since last year, F&M has hosted and encouraged a series of events about diversity and inclusion, which Porterfield said is central to the life of College. The "Day of Dialogue" will be followed by the Oct. 6 lecture by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, professional basketball's all-time leading scorer and six-time NBA champion.
Now a writer and political activist, Abdul-Jabbar is F&M's 2016 Mueller Fellow. He will first participate in a series of discussions with various student groups, and then give a speech to the general campus community to which the public is invited.
Like the "Day of Dialogue" in 1991, F&M's class schedule will be suspended Oct. 5 to allow students, faculty and staff to break into small-group sessions around campus to openly and freely discuss specific topics of concern. A faculty, staff, and student planning group was charged with organizing the Day, with a sub-group of faculty and staff working over the summer to flesh out the details. Discussion sessions, proposed by campus community members, will touch on all aspects of diversity, including social class, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, and disability as well as identities acquired on campus.
"The sessions should create a space in which members of the F&M community can gather together 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," said Day of Dialogue Committee Chair and Associate Professor of Government Stephanie McNulty.
Mealtimes also will help facilitate dialogue. Breakfast will start the day's conversation with students meeting in the common areas of their College Houses and other residential areas. Discussion over sticky buns and coffee will focus on how to engage in respectful dialogue in “sticky situations,” and set ground rules for fruitful discussion, said McNulty.
Lunch will take place in spaces around campus that might be perceived as exclusive, such as a fraternity house or a religiously affiliated space. Discussions will center on ideas about space, identity and community.
"The day includes events and activities that give us the chance to ask: What does it mean to be a member of the F&M community?" McClelland said. "How does this identity, which we all share, interact with the other identities we bring with us, those that we acquire while we are here, and those that we hold privately to ourselves? How do we understand ourselves in the context of our history and our future?"