When posters bearing the words “IT’S OK TO BE WHITE” appeared on campus last Halloween, Student Government Association responded by hosting a public forum to allow members of the Concordia community to discuss their reactions. In the months since, SGA has hosted forums on topics such as “Supporting Racial Diversity,” in response to the We Wear Beanies Too movement, and “Engaging in Political Discourse,” which aimed to help students and faculty better discuss politics in an increasingly polarized political climate. The most recent forum, held on Tuesday evening, was titled “Supporting Sexual Diversity.”
According to SGA President Ahna Van Valkenburg, the goal of the forums is to allow students, faculty and staff to talk about their differences on a range of diverse topics.“A huge part of it is making a space for intentional conversation. We want students to feel like they can talk about things that are difficult and that it’s normal and can be enjoyable to do so,” Van Valkenburg said.
At the campus forums, after an opening message, participants are split up into small groups, which Van Valkenburg said helps attendees feel more comfortable speaking on the topic of the evening. Later in the evening, a larger group discussion is opened up.
Each forum is run in conjunction with a campus organization, faculty or staff members in order to help facilitate the conversation of the evening’s topic.
“Our goal is to have as many people as we can, under the same roof with varying opinions, experiences and perspectives, coming in and respectfully, civilly discussing topics,” said SGA Vice President Will Kuball.
This plan seems to have worked out well for SGA, according to senior Patrick Sorrells, who attended the forums on “Supporting Racial Diversity” and “Engaging in Political Discourse.”
“Both forums I went to were very well attended. I was struck by how candid and honest people were when it came to reflecting on their own actions. Being able to honestly and openly self-reflect in front of other people says a lot about one’s character,” Sorrells said in an email.
Van Valkenburg said that one of the most interesting things that she has noticed is the difference in attendance at each forum—not the number of people, which has been between 40 and 60 participants each time, but the variety. She said that despite the diversity of opinions present, the forums have remained well-mannered.
“There were people that were surprised at how calm and well the political forum went,” she said.
She attributes this to the small group discussion that takes place, which is more interactive for all parties.
One of the other main reasons the forums are held is to collect feedback from students on what is going right within SGA and with Concordia as a whole, as well as what could be improved.
“We’ve gotten positive feedback, we’ve also gotten feedback on things we need to improve on. SGA’s number one job is being held accountable to its constituents. It’s a great way to do that,” Kuball said.
Moving forward, SGA plans to host two forums per month, with topics focused on different kinds of diversity. Upcoming forums will address socioeconomic concerns and gender diversity.
Van Valkenburg and Kuball are looking forward to the upcoming forums.
“I hope that we continue to get good attendance. But really more than that I hope that we are able to spark a conversation on campus,” Van Valkenburg said.