“Breaking Invisible Barriers”: The mission for more empathy

Layla Halterman (lahalterman@ursinus.edu)

Ursinus College’s effort to create a more inclusive, diverse community continues. On Jan. 25, in its annual community conference, Ursinus explored (new) ways to confront the invisible barriers that plague our society. Entitled “Breaking Invisible Barriers: Identity and Empowerment,” this conference provided a safe space for different community members to share personal triumphs and tribulations regarding barriers they have faced. Additionally, the community members discussed various ideas on “how to develop ownership/agency [while navigating] unique identities and groups,” according to the Ursinus website. Usually held annually in August, in-person, this year’s conference was pushed to January and attended by many via Zoom, due to the on-going pandemic. This is the first-year staff decided to open the forum to students, too.  

Meredith Goldsmith, an associate dean of the college and member of the Diversity Action Resource Team (DART), believes the conference is an opportunity to talk about the “barriers imposed by some of the stereotypes and attitudes toward people coming from marginalized groups.” These obstacles are often not perceived by those who do not face them. 

The conversations at this year’s conference varied, with different breakout rooms on Zoom focused on different identities. In the breakout rooms, attendees were given a series of quotes originating from literature or Ursinus students, and were asked about situations that made them feel liberated. Prof. Goldsmith wanted “to emphasize the assets in order to make students feel more empowered…[and] identify what works well for students and try to build on that,” she stated. 

Having these difficult yet empowering conversations reveals the importance of personal narrative. Prof. Goldsmith believes that the main purpose of this year’s conference was to build empathy, understanding, and appreciation for others and their experiences. Prof. Goldsmith also acknowledges that it can be more difficult to hold conversations in a time of isolation, but that should not stop anyone from pursuing them. For it is true: if we fail to converse, there will be grave consequences such as not seeing the change that we truly seek in today’s world.