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Conversations You Can Have on Campus

Aaron D. Mihalik

Staff Writer

A handful of student groups around campus have perceived a lack of events that create awareness and respect for people’s differences. “Conversations that You Can’t Have on Campus” resulted from the realization that there is a lack of activities that encourage students from different racial, ethnic, and gender groups to come together to discuss these differences.

“Conversations that you can’t have on campus” is designed to encourage a small group of students to come together and discuss taboo issues such as racism, gender roles and sexual issues that they encounter at MIT. Also, it allows the students to listen and learn from their peers, who might have very different views. Many of these discussions take place within various living groups.

The latest session, about diversity, was held in Chocolate City. Members from Chocolate City and Kappa Alpha Theta attended.

“The whole idea of this session is that we set a comfortable atmosphere,” said Jonathan S. White ’00, a resident at Chocolate City and a co-organizer of this event. “So that everyone feels comfortable enough to express their full beliefs and they don’t feel that they are going to be attacked personally by other people.”

In a typical session, the coordinator begins by encouraging the participants to lay out some ground rules for discussion. Many of these rules stress confidentiality, promote open conversation and encourage all members to participate in the discussion.

The exact nature of the seminar activities varies. Coordinators are encouraged to make use of role playing, debates, videos, films and brief newspaper articles to keep student interest.

The range of issues discussed are very broad and are narrowed down to specific issues. Usually topics are chosen by considering the dynamics of the living group or current issues on campus. Specific topics include differences in sexual orientation, differences and conflicts between racial and ethnic groups, sexual harassment at MIT, voluntary segregation on campus, affirmative action, interracial or interreligion dating and relationships, myths and stereotypes of race and sexuality, exploring differences in religion and faith, and gender differences.

This program is a spin off of an IAP seminar taught by Tobie F. Weiner, a student administrator in the political science department.

“I've always thought we should have something like Tobie’s seminar somewhere in the residence system,” said White “My house, Chocolate City, used to hold a seminar a few years ago called Nubian Notions... getting a seminar back in here and working with another group on campus were goals that I am glad we accomplished.”

Students meet in groups of 15-20 students in the evenings for two to three hours. These discussions happen four times per semester.

Living groups that are interested in this seminar should contact Tobie Weiner for more information. Students who decide to offer the seminar in their living group must organize a two hour training session with Weiner. The seminar will be offered as an IAP class in the political science department (17.909) and training for spring semester will be held during the IAP class.