Wednesday, March 25 marked the first of four conversations on diversity in the Student Assembly’s Table Talk series.
SA’s Department for Diversity Initiatives has been planning these talks as a part of the I Am W&M Initiative, an extension of I Am W&M Week, the sixth annual celebration of diversity on the College of William and Mary campus. Secretary for Diversity Initiatives Hannah Kohn ’15 hopes these talks will be a space for students to hear about their peers’ encounters with stereotyping and reflect on assumptions they made in the past.
“Table Talk has been our main focus this semester — we have worked to create a space for students to sit down with their peers, have a sandwich, and have an open and honest conversations, with facilitators to help guide each group,” Kohn said in an email. “I think the greatest benefit from these conversations will be students hearing experiences that are different from their own.”
The topic for the March 25 talk was “Assumptions and Stereotypes.” For each conversation, topics were chosen to answer undersecretaries’ questions related to the department’s focus areas: race, ethnicity, religion, class, ability, gender identity, sexuality and neurodiversity. Co-Undersecretary of Diversity Initiatives Lynn Nakamura ’15 hopes students who attend a talk will return for others, but she also believes each session will appeal to different people.
“If people have issues they could bring it up, we have a few questions that provoke thought and so over the course of a meal people who usually don’t speak about these subjects together will get together,” Nakamura said. “Each subject is going to attract a different kind of person to each one and so we can have these dialogues — meaningful dialogues.”
The remaining topics are “Appropriation vs. Appreciation,” “Privilege” and “We are W&M.” The last conversation is open to the entire College community, not just students. Makayla Donigan ’17 is looking forward to the talk about appropriation and appreciation because, she said, there is a difference between appreciating a culture and trying to imitate the culture.
“Sometimes it can be difficult for people that are of color to understand when people are appreciating the culture or just taking it and not respecting it,” Donigan said. “I feel like [the talks are] a good step forward the school can make to help overcome some of our racial issues on campus.”
For the first talk, about 20 students — including facilitators — were present. Student Affairs donated funds to provide for Panera catering.
“From my perspective, it went really well. At the beginning of each conversation, we establish guidelines — ‘table manners’ — to ensure that we are all approaching the conversation from a place of respect and conscientiousness,” Kohn said. “Our post-conversation surveys showed that students experienced positive growth within themselves and their understandings of each other since from when they completed the ‘pre-Conversation survey’ upon taking their seats.”
Sruvee Sathi ’16, a member of the committee which helps the Department of Diversity arrange the talks, also thought the atmosphere was appropriate — calming and without fear of judgment. Sathi is happy she participated and hopes more students will in the future.
“I did [feel like I gained something] because there were people from different backgrounds and experiences sharing their views on certain topics,” Sathi said. “Throughout the talk we identified that this should definitely be brought in to include more people in the community because a lot of things we talked about not necessarily were resolved, but were just identified and we shared a mutual understanding of certain issues.”
The next talk, “Appropriation vs. Appreciation,” is scheduled for April 1 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Executive Dining Room of the Mason School of Business.