February 7, 2012
I currently work on a campus, as many of us do, with limited racial, ethnic,
or religious diversity. This semester, I have the privilege of co-teaching a
graduate course on student development theory. The last few weeks, we have been
talking about identity development theories, specifically those related to
race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender.
One of the students’ assignments is to seek to understand a student who
speaks with a different voice than their own. They need to identify and learn
about someone who is different than them in at least two ways—be it race,
ethnicity, life experience, sexual orientation, role on campus, etc. This
week, one of the students asked, “How do I go about asking someone if I can
interview them about these identities or experiences in a way that doesn’t come
across as rude or creepy?”
This was a very good question. It caused me to think about how to
create an environment where our students can learn from each other in a way
that is educational and doesn’t make anyone feel like a token or isolated. If
the union is truly “the living room of campus,” how are we intentionally
creating a safe space for learning moments to occur?
Some of the suggestions that the students came up
with to answer this question were: talk to someone with whom they already have
an established relationship, approach an administrator who may work with a
particular group of students to help make a connection, or build on
the connections they had formed during class and interview the students with
which their classmates may work. They also talked about language that may be
used in asking questions with the purpose of seeking to understand the
experiences of another student.
To me, this issues the challenge of creating an environment where
relationships can be formed in a way that then allows for education to happen. As
we host diversity-related events, how are we creating a safe environment where
education might occur? How are we developing relationships between
students with different life experiences? The simple question asked by a
student in class challenged me to rethink some of my intentionality in the work
that I do.
is the Assistant Program Director Student Involvement at University of North Dakota.
In her position, Missy Burgess has responsibility for advising the University Program Council and overseeing more than 270 student organizations. She has a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s degree from Kansas State University, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in educational leadership at the University of North Dakota.