Lillian Vila Licht
Mark Schneider, UC’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, came up with the idea for Conversations About and Across Difference a little over two years ago. Since then, Conversations About and Across Difference have become a routine space for those on campus to gather and talk. Every Tuesday during these weekly conversations, faculty, staff, and students meet over lunch in Upper Wismer to have open dialogue in small groups, focusing on a question. The questions can range in topic, touching on religion, race, class, and gender, among other differences.
In Schneider’s speech at a Martin Luther King Week event of 2018, he elaborated that the Conversations About and Across Difference meetings “are not sufficient by themselves to change Ursinus, but they are part of a toolkit that will help us formulate our own thoughts about the four questions, especially ‘How should we live together.’” He believes that over time these discussions will build our community through connections, resilience, greater trust, and friendship. These conversations are continuing throughout Spring 2020, some of them focusing on specific topics such as religious clothing and symbols, new CIE books, and what it means to feel like a trespasser.
Dean Kelly Sorensen has also played a major role in enabling these discussions on campus. Sorensen brings up an important point, saying, “I think sometimes there’s more diversity on this campus then people realize …. And some of those differences are harder to see than differences in race and ethnicity.” Sorensen exclaims, “This is what amazes me, people might talk about losing a parent when they were younger or talk about having cancer at a time in their life in a way they wouldn’t in a committee meeting or a faculty meeting or in a classroom because the mood around the table is let’s try hard to bring our honest experience to bear on this question we’re talking about.” Sorensen admits that we have textbooks and class to learn from but, “we’ve also got flesh and blood human beings to learn from .”
One of the things that freshman Serena Rose Gaskin, a Sciences major and frequent participant at Conversations About and Across Difference, enjoys about the discussions is their focus on students. “I have learned through these conversations that Ursinus does indeed care about what their students have to think and say,” Gaskin explained. “To the students who have an opinion and enjoy sharing it, these conversations are for them,” said Gaskin. “Any idea is accepted and heard, and we all, faculty and students, could use an opportunity to learn something new.”
The meeting on Mar. 17 will focus on the question: “Growing up, what did people around you say about women’s roles?” For the meeting, there is a short optional reading of selections from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto.” The last meeting for the semester will be on May 4, and will be an open topic.