By Erica Quinones
The Office of Intercultural Affairs hosted the first installment of their new Real Talk Series on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
The Real Talks Series is a collaboration with the Office of Counseling Services and “represents recognizing, engaging, being aware, and learning” through discussions, according to an Oct. 7 email from Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates.
According to sophomore Queen Cornish, the idea for the series originated over the summer when she was considering the campus climate and its discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the 2019-2020 academic year.
“I wanted a space where students, faculty members, and community members can get together and discuss some tough topics. Topics that we don’t usually discuss often, and really highlight the experiences of folks who are marginalized as well,” Cornish said. “It really got me thinking about who is not getting enough recognition and who are we providing space for.”
From its initial conception, Cornish envisioned the talks as “fluid yet structured” guided conversations that are productive learning experiences and discuss different ideas, perspectives, and identities.
Bringing this idea to fruition included “a lot of meetings,” according to Cornish. She began working with Bates over the summer to solidify this series. Bates in turn brough Clinical Counselor John Fuller onto the project.
“[Collaborating with Counseling Services] allows us, when it comes to these discussions, to have someone who is a counselor, who has a counseling background, to perform a deep breathe, or if a student or faculty member is feeling a little bit distressed, they can mediate that situation,” Cornish said.
In the process of planning these conversations, Cornish said that Fuller assisted with setting an agenda and creating logos.
Cornish described both Bates and Fuller as key-players to whom she is grateful for helping bring the series together.
In designing the series, Cornish said they wanted to create a safe space where all participants can speak freely.
“Sometimes students can feel left out, and if they feel like they are in an environment where they can’t really be honest, because there’s fear of being dismissed or gaslighting, we’ve really tried to eliminate that in our discussions,” Cornish said.
Their work came to fruition on Oct. 14 with the first installment of the series, which focused on the LGBT experience from the perspectives of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.
The discussion was opened by Bates, who was followed by Fuller. He led the group in deep breathing exercises to prepare them for the discussion.
Cornish then introduced the topic with a PowerPoint presentation; held a moment of silence for Monica Roberts, a recently deceased Black blogger who reported on the lives of Black transgender people; introduced some notable BIPOC who belonged to the LGBT community; then asked the first question, “how has your upbringing affected how you view sexuality and gender?”
From that moment, it was primarily the audience who controlled the conversation, building off of others’ experiences with their own. Besides introducing a few subquestions, such as one which dealt specifically with the effects of religion on one’s views, there was minimal moderation.
After the discussion, Cornish was positive about its outcomes.
While she hoped for in-person conversations, Cornish said that the digital format made the discussion more accessible, because participants can call-in and type out answers or listen if they are unable to speak.
It also allowed them to create a safe space by using the screen share option. Because Cornish was sharing her presentation, participants did not need to look at each other and feel exposed or overwhelmed.
“We want participants to leave feeling empowered and realize this is part of their journey,” Cornish said. “This is healing for me. It allows me to heal from preconceived notions, from my past opinions and thoughts, and noticing that we’re all growing, we’re all moving into a different direction…but because now I am listening and engaging and being reflective about my position in this world, I’m able to be a little more sensitive towards other folks.”
Looking towards the future, Cornish said the series will have monthly installments with different themes.
The themes will be affected by anonymous participant feedback, but they are shaped by current events and intersectional perspectives.
She also hopes to eventually have the discussions in-person, because it allows for more flexibility in the conversation and the creation of a stronger community.
“It’s ever-changing to be honest, but I think what I want the key component to remain is that this is a safe space where you can be brave, you can listen, you can engage, you can reflect. This is a learning process,” Cornish said.
Featured Photo caption: The Office of Intercultural Affairs hosted their first Real Talk on Oct. 14, where students, staff, and faculty learned about some famous LGBT people of color and discussed how their upbringings affected their views of sexuality and gender. Photo by Izze Rios.