By Abby Wargo
Student Life Editor
How do students tactfully ask and answer questions concerning cultural and ideological differences? How can Washington College create more space for open, accepting conversations concerning sensitive subjects such as race and racism, gender and gender bias, homophobia, and disability? Tya Pope, assistant director of cultural affairs, seeks answers for these questions, and others, as a part of the Lunch and Learn series, hosted by the Office of International Affairs.
The seven-part discussion began on Sept. 7 and 11, and continues Oct. 5 and 9, Nov. 2 and 13, and Dec. 7. They are held in the faculty lounge, beginning at 12 p.m., and typically last around an hour.
Pope said she begins by showing the group a YouTube video, and a discussion about it follows. For people who come in later after their morning classes end, she plays the video again around halfway through the session.
“The first discussion was about helping people in tough positions, how to be there for them, and what it means to be an advocate and to help without making the other person feeling ‘less than’. It was kind of a soft ball for the first one,” Pope said.
Although there were not as many attendees as Pope desired, there was 100 percent participation within the group, and an intimate conversation ensued. There are no participation or preparation requirements for the discussions.
“They’re designed to be comfortable, informal, but meaningful,” she said.
The second discussion concerned implicit bias.
“Everyone has biases, and we need to figure out how to move past them. We are constantly consciously dealing and addressing them,” Pope said.
Once again, every person was involved in the conversation.
“It took a lot of different turns. The video was about the generalities of implicit bias, but it turned around into, how do we help people understand and acknowledge their bias?” she said.
The goal of the Lunch and Learn programs is to create spaces for conversations like these. The problem is that the people who come to these events are already interested in equity and inclusion.
“I’d love to see new faces, I’d love to see people who don’t typically come to events like these,” Pope said.
Lunch and Learn is intended for everyone, not just any one demographic. The goal is to start a campus-wide conversation. These conversations can help students to learn more about each other and understand the world from one another’s perspectives.
“It sounds small, but it is huge—not everybody feels comfortable or equipped for success. It’s as simple as a white person with a black friend who doesn’t feel that they can ask them any questions [regarding their differences]… Lunch and Learns are a place where people can feel comfortable to reach out [to their peers] in a non-offensive way,” Pope said.
With the campus growing in size and diversifying, there are questions of inclusion that become increasingly difficult to ignore, and answers that could be unsatisfying to some, according to Pope.
Pope said, “We need to face facts; there are things we don’t know. How do we go about getting the correct knowledge? We need a space to have good conversations.”