The Collegian
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Students discuss diversity, hard conversations during Panel with the President forum

<p>Students at the Panel with the President event, hosted by President Crutcher, WCGA and RCSGA on Tuesday, Oct. 9.&nbsp;</p>

Students at the Panel with the President event, hosted by President Crutcher, WCGA and RCSGA on Tuesday, Oct. 9. 

A small group of students joined a public forum to discuss issues surrounding the discussion of contentious issues, especially issues on the University of Richmond campus.

During the forum, on Tuesday, Oct. 9, Westhampton College Government Association and Richmond College Student Government Association put students in the forefront. 

Instead of the large panel discussions the student governments have conducted in the past, this forum took place on a much smaller scale, allowing more student voices to be heard and issues students saw on campus to be addressed. 

“We’ve had other forums in the past where we get the panel of faculty and have a big topic and have it in The Pier, and a lot of people are there, but less people are engaged," WCGA President Monica Stack said. "We wanted to try a different setting where we have people in a more intimate room and bring up topics students want to talk about.” 

The conversation, as initiated by University President Ronald Crutcher, began as a discussion of diversity on UR's campus.  

“My interest is ensuring that you as students develop the skills to be able to not only be engaged with each other in conversations about topics that we have in common, but also about topics where you don’t agree, so that you can have the tools to learn how to agree to disagree,” Crutcher said. 

The discussion of diversity began as one of social diversification among races. However, this quickly grew beyond race. The idea of viewpoint diversity, which has already been a large topic because of the Sharp Viewpoint Speaker Series, became a point of conversation.

“Sometimes language of inclusion and language of engaging with people that are new to us and different from us falls entirely along the dichotomy of race, and not necessarily dichotomies of opinions,” RCSGA senator Colin Pohlman said.

Those at the event agreed that the best education comes from the presentation of multiple personal philosophies. Students said that they had learned the most when viewpoints rivaling their own had been brought up in class discussions.

Despite efforts to cultivate diversity by the university, the group also agreed that more conversations needed to occur between dissimilar people. These conversations, and consequently the installment of complete social diversification on campus, must be initiated fully by students, they said.

In addition to the cruciality of discussions with dissimilar people, the importance of listening to those people became a large part of the conversation.

“I’ve found that the more I listen, the more I could learn from other people,” RCSGA President Tyler York said.

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The importance of listening was also a discussion point. Students told stories of when friends came to them in times of need as a person simply to talk at, not to. Stories were also told of times where simply listening to a person of a different background drastically changed a person’s worldview.

However, this idea became a small point of contention. Those at the event recognized the importance of listening to other viewpoints, but they struggled to find the line between listening to take in diverse viewpoints and depriving the other person of viewpoint diversity.

“What if you are right?” Pohlman said. “How can you change someone’s mind if you are just going to listen to them?”

A student then highlighted the idea that not all conversations need to result in the other person being educated. They asserted that some conversations could result in a realization of flaws in personal philosophies, rather than the other person's change of opinion.

The forum concluded with a few remarks from Crutcher addressing the complexity of the topics discussed. Through this slight push outside of their comfort zone, students will start to see more social diversification on the UR campus, Crutcher said.

“I want all of our students at the University of Richmond to feel that this is their university, that they belong here,” Crutcher said. “That’s not the same thing as always feeling comfortable.”

He pressed students to not let the discussion die. With the continuation of the discussion of the topics addressed in the forum, he believes there could be a massive change within the UR community, he said.

“I don’t want you to wait to continue this conversation,” Crutcher said. “Continue. Engage others [in this conversation] in the dining hall and in other places.”

Contact news writer Susanna Getis at susanna.getis@richmond.edu

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