Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Days of Dialogue discussions happening at UM

Shaina Mishkin/Collegian

This week, the University of Massachusetts has seen fresh fall air, heavy rain and the Days of Dialogue – a series of group discussions about race, religion, gender and class designed for students, faculty and staff.

The Days of Dialogue was started in 2008 by the Five College Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) Committee with the help of the UMass Social Justice Education Program of the School of Education, according to a press release.

“The Days of Dialogue are intended to be a starting point for continuing conversations about important issues on all Five College campuses,” said Kevin Kennedy, the Five College director of communications, in a release.

Kennedy said the long-term goal of the operation is to “build the capacity to develop sustained dialogues across differences among college employees led by a Five College cadre of trained facilitators.”

“While the dialogues we are sponsoring are designed for staff, faculty and graduate student employee participants, we see them as supporting and reinforcing the dialogue work that is being [done] with students on campus,” said coordinator Linda Marchesani, who is a member of the Five College IGD initiative.

The Days of Dialogue are being run by Marchesani and Margaret Arsenault, who works with Workplace Learning and Development.

An invitation was sent from Chancellor Robert Holub to, according to Marchesani, “all campus employees supporting the importance for all members of our campus community to engage in conversations about how to make the UMass Amherst campus welcoming and inclusive for all.”

Holub said in the invitation: “It is essential that we create and sustain campus environments that are welcoming and encourage open and honest conversations. One proven way of achieving this goal is to provide intentional opportunities for dialogue.”

Before the events take place, teachers are instructed in a three-day IGD training session by Ximena Zuniga, associate professor of UMass Social Justice Program of School of Education, and psychology professor Mark Chesler of the University of Michigan.

Zuniga said in the release that “research recently conducted on the Five College IGD efforts tells us that sustained dialogue across racial and other social divides, when facilitated well, can help participants develop a sense of personal and collective efficacy and responsibility about diversity and social justice issues impacting their workplaces and their communities.”

“I think it is important for students to know that members of the faculty and staff care to explore issues of race, class, gender and religion difference as these issues also impact student life,” said Zuniga in an interview. “Indeed, we need to create more opportunities for students to engage in dialogues across differences with peers, and with faculty and staff.”

The IGD expands beyond the Five College area as, according to the release, the event takes place across “several colleges and universities across the nation.”

UMass has already begun its discussions, which are scheduled to end on the Oct. 21. The discussions on “Class and Rank in the Workplace” and “Gender Dynamics at Work” have already happened, with the latter having its second session today from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in the Campus Center.

The other discussions that students can register for include “Race and Ethnicity in the Workplace,” which will follow up its Tuesday session with one on Friday from 10 a.m to 12:30 p.m., and “Religion and Belief in the Workplace,” which has its only session today from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All remaining events are scheduled to be in the Campus Center rooms 911-915.

UMass isn’t the only Five College campus that has taken part in these discussions. Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College also held the program within their campuses. Amherst College will start hosting its own Days of Dialogue discussions on Nov. 7 and will run until Nov. 10.

Registration is required for Hampshire prior to seeing the schedule. Smith shares its remaining Days of Dialogue schedules prior to registration.

The remaining discussions at Smith College will happen today and Friday, with all three events between 9:30 a.m. to noon and will take place in the Campus Center. Two of the remaining discussions, including todays, will focus on “Class/Rank.” The final discussion at Smith is titled, “Race/Ethnicity.”

Mount Holyoke College concluded its Days of Dialogue discussions yesterday.

After this round of discussions ends, the University will look to create more IGD programs in spring 2012, according to UMass’ IGD Web page. The site says information on new discussions will be posted in the spring.

“I see the Days of Dialogue as a starting point for faculty and staff to continue these conversations in the work place as well as through sustained efforts such as the six-week Intergroup Dialogues that will be offered in the spring semester in [all of the] Five College campuses,” said Zuniga.

Zuniga also said the School of Education offers an intergroup dialogue class “where students explore social and cultural differences in a facilitated small group setting.”

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected].


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