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Community Development facilitates open-minded discussion

by Alaina Jonathan - Contributing Writer
Wed, Apr 17th 2019 01:55 pm



Talking about controversial topics can quickly get heated, especially when discussing things like politics or abortion. Typically, if the conversation turns into an argument, the two people are likely not to see the other person’s point. The National Week of Conversation is aimed at bridging the gap that divides us all. 

The Office of Community Development at the College at Brockport joined many other universities and high schools in participating in the National Week of Conversation. Their slogan is, “mending the frayed social fabric and bridging divides one conversation at a time.”

This is exactly the goal of the Office of Community Development at Brockport. Graduate Assistant for Democratic Engagement Justin Sullivan and other community ambassadors helped to get this week organized. 

“Often times people do not know how to have conversations about controversial issues,” Sullivan said. “Either they back down or they are very abrasive and end up fighting,” 

The National Week of Conversation aims to end the stress that is associated with family get-togethers and other social gatherings.  

 “Holidays are the most stressful times for families because of politics,” Sullivan said. “We have so many students say ‘I don’t speak to this family member because we don’t agree about politics.’” 

Here at the college, the office put together a full week of different events held in the Seymour College Union to help students see that there is a correct way to speak about controversial topics. 

On Monday, April 8 the organization had students sign a pledge to listen first, as well as discuss uncomfortable topics over food to emulate a dinner party setting. Tuesday, April 9  seemed to be most popular day with “Tee Shirt Tuesday,” letting students design whatever they wanted on these T-shirts as a form of expression. 

“The reason for T-shirt Tuesday is to promote self-expression but to also be a conversation starter,” Sullivan said. “It didn’t have to be political, you really realize people’s values through self-expression.”

On Friday, April 12, the final day of the National Week of Conversation, the office had  students write letters to Congress on postcards. They were able to write about anything that was bothering them and could send them out that same day. 

“When you write to congress or any other representative you get a response, and that’s something I really want our students to see,” Sullivan said. “Writing a card to congress is far more productive than going on Twitter and complaining.”

Associate Director of the Office of Community Development Kim Piatt was one of the members involved with the planning of the week. This week of conversation impacted many different levels of the community. 

“For me, it is an opportunity for all members of the community to connect with each other and explore the various beliefs and experiences that shape the ways we view politics and policy,” Piatt said. 

Students reactions have been overwhelmingly supportive of the participation from the events that have been put together in the Union and also by tabling alone. 

“Change happens when people can see both sides and find a happy medium,” Sullivan said. “The response has been overall very positive and it means a lot people take time out of their day to learn about this.” 

Paitt agreed that the response has been favorable. 

“The response has been really positive,” Piatt said. “People seem to appreciate the opportunity to have their voices heard and engage in conversation with each other.”

Change in conversation is not something that is going to happen overnight. Many things in this country contribute to why the conversation is as divided as it is. 

“It’s one step at a time, but by doing National Week of Conversation we aren’t saying we’re going to bring peace to Brockport,” Sullivan said. “We have a divided country; it’s always been that way, but now it’s being brought to the forefront.” 

The hope is to help people ease into these controversial topics better and have more of a constructive conversation rather than something negative. 

“The national week of conversation allows people to not stress about talking about controversial issues,” Sullivan said. 

The Office of Community Development is striving to promote the “listen first” mindset, along with the idea that no one is right or wrong as long as they are not hateful. This belief is perpetuated by the National Week of Conversation. 

 “I think it would be great to have at other schools,” Piatt said. “It is a national movement so I’m not sure what their reach currently is but I certainly would recommend it to other colleges.”

It all starts with one conversation at a time, and if able to do so and spread the word, other colleges can follow in the same path at The College at Brockport.  


ajona3@brockport.edu | @alainajonathan3

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