This monthly gathering designed to facilitate conversations with the goal of intentionally and mindfully respecting diversity in our community, continues to grow in light of recent activism efforts across the country and COVID-19.
Faculty members Brenda Mitchell and Melissa Culp spearheaded Community Conversations more than a year ago as a forum for DAHS students, faculty and staff to voice their concerns and opinions about campus issues. These monthly sessions are an extension of a University-wide diversity and inclusion initiative, and are designed to promote empathy and understanding in a safe environment.
“No one is pressured to come and join the conversations. It is completely optional,” said Mitchell. Her main priority is to maintain a safe and respectful space for all opinions and topics of conversation.
The first Community Conversations session was held in 2019 after the start of protests related to Silent Sam, a Confederate monument. Over the past few months, these smaller in-person conversations have evolved into online sessions with as many as 35 people in attendance at a session.
“In light of COVID-19, these conversations have given us a greater connection to one another,” said Mitchell.
Previously discussed topics include police brutality, white privilege, social class differences, protecting your own space, and work-life balance during busy times. A follow-up survey is sent out after each session to gather feedback and to determine the topic of the next meeting. Meeting facilitators use a variety of techniques such as breakout rooms and role-playing scenarios to engage attendees.
The DAHS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee works with the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team (DILT) to recruit volunteers to serve as meeting facilitators. All DILT volunteers are encouraged to pursue UNC supported programs such as Safe Zone, Implicit Bias, and Green Zone trainings, but they are not required.
“I want us to be current and take all the trainings,” said Mitchell. “We want to put the signs on our doors and indicate that we are true allies.”
Mitchell sends an invitation each month to the entire department for those interested in joining Community Conversations. They will continue on Zoom for the foreseeable future.
Brenda Mitchell, PhD, is an associate professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences and the associate chair of the Department of Allied Health Sciences’ Office of Student Services. Mitchell was awarded the Allied Health Sciences Leadership Award in 2019.
The Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences.
– Lizzy Laufters, public relations and communications intern