Third annual DePauw Dialogue

The DePauw ‏@TheDePauw 35m35 minutes ago Some breakout sessions are packed, forcing students to sit on the floor and line the walls. SAM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW

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Exhausting; the word used by many on DePauw University’s campus after the third annual DePauw Day of Dialogue. It was a day of unexpected situations, but filled with discussions those who organized the day hope will carry into the rest of the academic year.

This year’s dialogue was different from its predecessors in multiple ways. The day began and ended with two different speakers, included a total of 25 different break-out sessions,an overarching theme, and one student lead demonstration .

Student leaders began preparing during the summer to ensure that the day would be as inclusive as possible. The theme of the day, Community and American Democracy, was decided early to connect students with the election coming up this year.

“We were incredibly prepared this year,” said DePauw Student Government’s Vice President of Community Relations, senior Sarah Fears. “We hoped to cater to everyone in order to have a productive, alternative form of learning for that day and using the campus as a classroom environment.” Fears has worked on planning and organizing all three DePauw Dialogues, and plans on helping organize the fourth before she graduates in the spring.

This year there were several new elements to the day. There was both a keynote speaker, Vernon Wall, and endnote speaker, Dr. Keith Edwards. The two speakers were chosen as a way to have both a clear beginning and ending to the very full day.

There was no swipe-in system, which was different from years past. The system was removed due to a lack of interest from organizations that previously wanted to keep track of attendance.  “Last year IFC and Panhellenic and as well as athletics had asked for them, but this year they did not ask for one,” said Anne Harris, Vice President for Academic Affairs. Harris believed attendance was relatively high, despite the lack of exact numbers.

This year students had access to an app that guided them to all of their sessions throughout the day. The app, Guidebook, was supposed to be easy to use, while decreasing the amount of paper used throughout the day. “Having a whole other year next time, will give us time to work out the logistics,” said Harris.

The morning began with doors opening at 8:30 a.m. in the Neal Fieldhouse. The keynote started at 9 a.m with speaker Vernon Wall, whose background focuses on social justice. Wall worked on getting students engaged with one another in preparation for the day.

After 40 minutes of Wall’s speech student activists, holding signs and dressed in black, walked in and stood in silence in the fieldhouse. Wall invited them to speak, and they asked that students not clap, but rather physically stand in solidarity. “What’s interesting about this conversation around inclusion is, we tend to see it third person,” Wall said. “It’s only until we connect with an individual, that we then start to feel.”

Wall adjourned his presentation early so attendees could discuss the demonstration in their breakout sessions.

Both students and faculty were surprised and moved by the demonstration. “For a period of time I didn’t know if it was planned because he (Wall) responded to it with such grace,” said professor Gigi Jennewein. “I would have liked us to hear more from those students, so let’s just stop and let’s just hear this.”

In addition, many students felt that the demonstration was helpful to their experience. “I feel like the demonstration by the African American Student Association and their allies was really effective and provided a really good way to engage everyone in conversation during Day of Dialogue about this specific issue that DePauw has,” said sophomore Elise Daniels.

After the protest, students, faculty and staff went to one of the 25 breakout sessions, then to lunch and back to a second breakout session. Each of the breakout sessions was aimed to be effective for students at all levels of knowledge.

“What I really want students to take away, is that you don’t know everything,” said Fears, “This is a day for the students who need the 300 level course and for students who need the one-on-one and there are variety of workshops with overlapping themes to go and enhance their knowledge.”

Some students even worked as facilitators for certain Breakout Sessions during the day. Sophomore, Abhishek Sambatur, helped facilitate and plan a discussion about International Student’s ideas about democracy. “I thought the process of inviting discussion was the most attractive factor of facilitating ” said Sambatur, “You also gain perspectives, and it was a great experience.”

Most students on DePauw’s campus feel the breakout sessions are really effective for them. “I think it’s super constructive if everyone buys into it,” said sophomore Ashley Beeson.

However, some breakout sessions were canceled and some students were not able to go to the one they wanted to in the afternoon. One session about immigration, planned by Marco A. Moreno, was canceled in the morning because the speaker had to attend court, but sent his assistant to speak on his behalf in the afternoon. In addition, there was confusion about sessions being held only during the morning or the afternoon.

“Certainly, as with any conference, there are hiccups,” said Harris, “We had one speaker who was called into court at last minute and he wasn’t able to come, so communicating that was difficult and there are always those technical hiccups.”

The day closed with speaker Keith Edwards giving closing thoughts about what it means to be an ally.  The audience was significantly smaller than it was for the keynote speaker in the morning.

Overall, the feelings about the third Day of Dialogue were fairly mixed, but the staff and faculty felt encouraged by the day as a whole. Plans for next year’s DePauw Dialogue are already being discussed by students, faculty and staff.

“Every day of dialogue has been different than another one, and I’m proud of DePauw for having three of these,” said McCoy, “I think that they are opportunities for us as a campus to come together and take on some very serious issues that we face in our country and in our campus.”