Difficult Discussions

Difficult Dialogues on Campus Race Relations has been orchestrated 18 times, co-founded by professors in the department of communication to address campus race relations and past instances of racism on the Texas A&M campus.

In an effort to make Texas A&M a more welcoming and inclusive campus, students, faculty and staff are invited to attend Difficult Dialogues on Campus Race Relations, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. in MSC 2300D.

Difficult Dialogues was created in 2016 in response to a racist incident that occurred on campus, communication professor and founding co-director Srivi Ramasubramanian said. A group of students from Uplift Hampton Preparatory were visiting Texas A&M when they were subjected to racial slurs while in the Memorial Student Center, Ramasubramanian said.

The university took immediate action to denounce the behavior and discipline the students involved. Students began a campaign in which they wrote letters to Uplift Hampton Preparatory to apologize for their fellow Aggies’ actions. Moved by the response to the incident, Ramasubramanian created Difficult Dialogues.

“We don’t have to wait for these incidents to happen in order to have these conversations,” Ramasubramanian said. “Difficult Dialogues is an initiative that is open to anybody in the campus community to come and have a conversation about race relations.”

Ramasubramanian said the workshop promotes active listening and creates a space where people can share honestly, feeling heard and validated in their experiences while discussing a difficult topic.

It is important for students who have experienced racism at A&M to have a community who will validate their experience, said Vanessa Gonlin, a sociology doctoral candidate and co-facilitator of Difficult Dialogues.

“Difficult Dialogues really started with this idea that some students experience racism on A&M’s campus and then other students are very unaware that it is happening,” Gonlin said. “We want to bridge that gap and show the perspectives of their classmates and peers.”

It is important for students who do not experience racism on A&M’s campus to have a better understanding of what their classmates are going through, Gonlin said. It also makes them less likely to dismiss the experiences of their peers.

All campuses need to have conversations about diversity with the student body, faculty and staff, co-director and assistant professor Anna Wolfe said.

“When we do that, we are able to create an environment that is more inclusive, that is more welcoming to a wider range of people and can facilitate the highest level of thought together,” Wolfe said.

All who attend are encouraged to come with an open mind and a willingness to engage, Wolfe said. Attendees can expect to learn about available resources to be part of building a positive environment at A&M.

“The workshop begins with opening statements by Dr. Srivi, then leads into icebreakers within small groups,” Gonlin said. “[Attendees] then read case studies and journal entries. Facilitators guide the discussion while notetakers jot down key points of the conversation.

“The event ends with an explanation of techniques to combat microaggressions and racism on campus.”

Difficult Dialogues has been orchestrated more 18 times now, Ramasubramanian said. She recently talked about the Difficult Dialogues project at The University of California - Santa Barbara and has been invited to go to Latvia in November to give a keynote on this topic, she added.

From a student perspective, Gonlin said she has yet to see improved race relations on A&M’s campus, but she is hopeful that the climate will change.

“We have an opportunity for people to begin this conversation,” Gonlin said. “First you have to acknowledge the problem. In the future, when we have acknowledged it and implemented what we can do as individuals and as a collective university, then there will be more change and enhanced relations.”

The event is free, but preregistration is required: https://calendar.tamu.edu/communication/view/event/event_id/128975

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