ASK!, an interactive safe space for dialogue around difference, will be held from 1 to 2:45 p.m. April 9 in Decker 201. The event is sponsored by the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and offered as part of this year’s Convocation Day activities.
In preparing for this year’s event, organizers reached out to Deb Hibbard, retired SUNY Broome counselor, who first proposed and implemented this idea, to see how she originally conceived of the event.
Hibbard: The idea for ASK! came after I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2015 called, ”Bring Muslims, Evangelicals and Atheists Together on Campus,” in which the authors Eboo Patel and Mary Ellen Giess advocated for conversations about religious diversity and recommended that conversations should be high-level, cross-campus, sustained, and actively woven into everything, including first-year orientation.
It occurred to me then, that as a culture, we’re increasingly comfortable accepting stereotypes about all sorts of categories of people. If you know I am a veteran, a lesbian, a professor, a Pagan or a police officer, you have a short and often erroneous list of things you immediately think you know about me. These assumptions we have about one another keep us from understanding not just the person who identifies with or is identified with a particular group, but also how complex, rich and beautiful every one of us is.
The first year we sent out flyers, made Diversity Passports which were stamped by one of the many people sitting at tables where they identified themselves as Christians, gay people, people who identified as mentally ill, veterans and many others. If a student asked the person at the table questions, they got a stamp. If they were too uncomfortable coming up with a question, each table had a list of questions they could use. We sent a letter to professors asking them to consider giving their students extra credit for coming and being curious.
The purpose was multi layered: to spread awareness and acceptance of differences across campus and learn about others; to highlight the importance of open-mindedness and how first impressions are not a reliable source in creating a community with equality and social justice; to promote face-to-face communications; and to provide safe and welcoming environment for the open-minded and curious.
The first year several people sat for 15 minutes at one table surprised, they later said, at how much they had in common with a person they felt was “other.” One table had three people who didn’t agree how they should be named and those that came to the table saw them discussing the merits of being labeled “disabled” vs “differently abled” and joined in the conversation. ASK! is now going into its fourth year.
While this year’s convocation theme asks us to reflect on the effect of daily technology use and the immersion into our cell phones and social media sites, ASK! will focus on the interpersonal connections that can be made one on one in a safe environment where we can just talk to each other. We hope to see you there!