I AM discussion series aims to ask questions and raise awareness

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The Busch Student Center often sees a midday rush, with groups meeting and students grabbing lunch and running to and from class. Amidst the busyness, the Cross Cultural Center offers students a chance to take a break and participate in a wide range of discussions, including the “I AM” discussion series.

The “I AM” series is a discussion held from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month.  The series is open to students, faculty and staff and is designed to promote social justice, identity awareness and multiculturalism.  The topics of each discussion vary from month to month and are meant to engage the SLU community in things that they might not have a chance to otherwise discuss.

The series has been in place for the last few years in the CCC, and this semester, Patrice French, coordinator of the series, is taking a new approach to this semester’s topics of discussion.  French has recently been interviewing and video recording people across campus and showing the interviews at the monthly discussions.  The topics touched upon in the interviews give way into greater group discussion.

So far during her interviews with two current SLU students, French has inquired about the students’ lives prior to SLU as well as how being here has impacted who they are.

“I really enjoy it because you get to see these very different people that make up SLU.  My first interview was with a non-traditional student with two children.  Her life is not what you would think is associated with a full time college student,” said French.

When choosing people to interview, French said she just asks around.

“I work with other staff in my department to identify folks who would be interesting to interview so we have a good pool of folks.  We want people who have had a variety of experiences at SLU that move beyond typical college experiences.” French said.

Diversity and inclusion are ideals that SLU promotes, and students are often able to hear various speakers on topics of these natures.  The “I AM” series, however, gives people the chance to be engaged and discuss their thoughts about these topics.

“The room is set up in circles so people can talk and discussions happen in both small and larger groups,” said French.  “I choose the topic and create content around it, and I am relying on the people there to push it along.  That’s why it’s called a discussion series and not a lecture series, it gets people going.”

French said that the I AM series is less formal than a lecture and seeks to promote mindfulness over concrete answers.

“When there is a speaker, the person is seen as an expert so you are supposed to leave with knowledge.  The series is not something where you are going to find the answers to these questions, but it seeks to bring awareness.”

French structures the program to leave more questions than answers in the hope that people will continue their conversations.

French said that the discussions bring about a greater awareness of where people are coming from.

“I think it is nice to have people share their own views and perspectives and there is a lot to be seen and heard from people who live and work in this community.  In that regard, I feel like it is an eye opener in some ways.  It is refreshing to get to talk and not listen,” French said.

Kathleen Otto, a student worker in the Cross Cultural Center, said that the purpose of the series is to create a safe space for dialogue about topics that are sometimes difficult to discuss in everyday life.

“This semester we’re putting a new spin on it that is sort of a miniseries within the normal series. Our focus is on the SLU identity,” Otto said. “The people we interview will consist of students, faculty, staff, etc. The interviews will be centered around how these peoples’ personal identities fit into and shape their SLU identities.”

The screenings of the interviews and the following discussions will be held in the hopes of helping us to better understand the dynamics that the diverse identities in our community contribute to, said Otto.

In addition to being more than just a lecture, the goal of the “I AM” series is to “provide this platform/opportunity for all members of the SLU community to allow them to talk and reflect upon their own experiences and how they personally contribute to our community,” Otto said.

Additionally, Otto said that the series is meant “to build community amongst a diverse population.

Diversity has become such a trendy word and we forget the true meaning, and why it’s important in creating a strong community.

Diversity is about more than just race – and that’s what this particular project of the ‘I AM’ series is all about.”