Dialogue Day offers deep learning

UMass student Meredith Wells presented segments of her one woman show, Dysfunctioning Just Fine, about her experience being diagnosed with dysautonomia. ARHS alum Miguel Paredes (center) directed the show, which encourages audience members to reconsider their notions of disability.Photo: Sara Barber-Just

On May 11, ARHS held a Dialogue Day, designed to increase understanding, address problems, and question popular thoughts or actions.

The goal was to make changes in the community through discussion.

The organizers provided students with a menu of topics: dialogue about immigration; refugees in distress; race; political activism; the psychology and culture of mass violence and hate: from Nazi Germany to ISIS; and (dis)ability.

All were led by faculty and student facilitators. They spread out across all of the sessions to help lead small-group discussions after the initial presentations.

Dialogue Day first started in 2014, in order to provide faculty, staff and students with the opportunity to process the challenging events in the community at the time.

This year, the purpose was to encourage students to engage in genuine dialogue about the complex challenges faced by our nation and to avoid shutting themselves off from other perspectives.

Social Studies teachers Sam Camera and Simon Leutz delivered the presentation about mass violence and hate.

Ms. Camera said, “Simon Leutz and I gave a talk on the Psychology and Culture of Mass Violence and Hate: From Nazi Germany to ISIS and then broke the large group  of 265 students into 12 smaller groups for discussion. We had 18 excellent student facilitators for this.”

One of the 18 student facilitators was senior Suling Lam.

“We did a 40-minute presentation on what causes us to hate, what scapegoating is (blaming your own personal problems on other people), [why we] target minorities, and how we got to this point,” said Lam.

Lam explained how helpful the day had been. The presentations were effective in terms of teaching people and giving students time to reflect on certain topics through conversation.

Lam also considered how Dialogue Day will be important in the long-run.

“I want it to happen for more than one day, to have speakers come in to present. We tend to forget outside issues without properly discussing [them]. Learning information students give and encouraging students to talk about real world issues is important,” said Lam.

“I think we needed more time for the dialogue and some time after the dialogue to decompress,” added Ms. Camera. “I think we should consider having the outdoor celebration after the dialogue next year. I understand that it was a logistical challenge this year but it should be considered for the future.”  

“There were too many great choices and I would like the students to experience them all,” she added. “It might be worth considering repeating these topics next year so more students can experience them.”