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SMC holds first year discussion

Bridget Feeney | Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saint Mary’s College’s Common Experience program concluded for the semester Tuesday night with a short film and a student-led panel discussion, both of which focused on diversity and the problem of stereotyping other cultures.

The Common Experience, a component of the Cross Currents Program, is designed to educate and mentor first year students at the College, spotlighting issues crucial to the first-year experience.

Susan Vanek, associate dean of advising, said the Cross Currents Program helps first years navigate the educational and social landscapes of the College.

“The goal and purpose of Common Experience is to introduce students to the importance of their education,” Vanek said. “Liberal arts and diversity are the cornerstone of a first rate college education.”

The second and final installment of Common Experience Tuesday focused on diversity, and how recognizing our differences can help answer the ‘Why am I here?’ question for first year students, Karen Johnson, vice president for student affairs, said.

“The ‘Why am I here?’ question … is answered for first years through peer mentoring, faculty advising and various activities in the residence halls,” she said.

Johnson said after Tuesday’s film and panel, students met with their advisors, discussed the night’s activities and then will prepare a reflection on the film.

The film, titled “The Danger of a Single Story,” features Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie and struggles with overcoming the “single stories” people tell of African and Nigerian cultures.

Adichie, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and earned Master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Yale University, speaks in the film about the dangers of partaking in single story telling.

Adichie said a single story is when we hear only one story about a person and use that information to shape our views of other peoples and cultures.

“Single stories rob people of their dignity,” she said in the film. “We are taught to emphasize how people are different, rather than how people are similar.”

Adichie said people should recognize the positive effects of exploring other cultures and expanding their personal views.

The film was followed by a panel discussion, led by junior Maeva Alexander and senior Alexandra Zellner. The discussion was a way for first year students to see how diversity can be lived out in everyday life, particularly at Saint Mary’s College.

Alexander reflected on her time abroad in South Africa and how her single stories were drastically altered as a result of her experience. Zellner discussed the impact on stereotypes, focusing especially on labels Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame students can sometimes impose upon one another.

Both Zellner and Alexander ended their discussions stressing the importance of working to push past single stories and celebrate similarities between peoples of different cultures, echoing the themes of Adichie’s talk in the film.