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Saint Mary’s course strives to promote dialogue and inclusion

| Friday, September 7, 2018

For over 10 years, Saint Mary’s has facilitated the Diversity Dialogues program which provides an opportunity for students to engage in respectful conversation across differences and learn through that experience. The program, which is done in collaboration with Ivy Tech, is designed to talk about race and issues related to race in a facilitated context, said the director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership, Mana Derakhshani.

“The program serves as a way to provide students with an opportunity to practice civil discourse on important issues with individuals from different perspectives,”Derakhshani said. “In particular, it is important to have the students from Ivy Tech or other schools participate as they bring diversity to the group in terms of life experiences as well as other aspects of their identity. It also aims to bring together small numbers of community members from different races [and] ethnicities, to learn about and discuss the issue of race and racism in the U.S. and in their community, with the intention of coming up with action plans that the group could implement and thus improve things in their community.”

Senior Elizabeth Innis, who took the course in the spring of 2017, explained that the program invites students to engage with identities and experiences that are essential to the society in which we live today.

“I believe there is a need for programs like these in all communities, but for Saint Mary’s specifically there is a history of not being very diverse,” she said. “It is not because we are not inclusive, but because nationwide there is a lack of opportunity for and encouragement of minority populations to go to college and succeed. This program is unique in that it invites students who are outside of the Saint Mary’s community to share their thoughts and experiences of diversity and inclusion.”

Innis said the greatest goals of the class include reduction of racism, an increase in inclusivity and a fuller understanding of how racism affects people. The program prompts introspection and engagement through positive action, explained Innis.

“This action could be as simple as changing your own thoughts on a subject, or calling a friend out for a racist comment, to starting a group which seeks to teach children about racism and how to change it,” she said. “I could not recommend this course enough to students. The dialogue we had with members of the South Bend community was incalculable. I learned so much about myself and all the people involved, and I believe we are all better off because of it.”

Julie Storme, the co-founder of the program and professor of modern languages and intercultural studies, said for her this program is one of the most concrete ways that Saint Mary’s prepares women to make a difference in the world.

“Diversity Dialogues is meant to help lay a foundation of understanding among individuals who have different lived-experiences,” Storme said. “Furthermore, it strives to show that this kind of understanding needs to be taken beyond Saint Mary’s as members of our community interact, live and move to other communities or other work-study environments. I hope that it makes Saint Mary’s a more inclusive and welcoming to everyone community. I also hope that the student-participants who take it move out in the world ready to listen to others who are different from them and willing to witness how difference is lived in this country and eager to speak the truth they learn.”

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