In response to the death of George Floyd and recent protests, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion hosted listening sessions via Zoom to hear ideas as to how SIUE can improve race relations.
The sessions were open to SIUE students and faculty members. Spots could be reserved by signing up through SignUpGenius. Once signed up, attendees received a link to a Zoom meeting, during which anyone who wanted could share their thoughts.
Director of CSDI Lindy Wagner said the idea for listening sessions was formed in discussions between Student Affairs and CSDI.
“Student Affairs Division kind of, as the directors during our directors’ meeting, had talked about some things that we could do to support more discussion on campus about the current events as well as how people were experiencing that on campus, and I had done Listening Sessions at other institutions before and had kind of offered to house them through CSDI, and so that’s kind of how it started,” Wagner said.
According to Wagner, the goal of the Listening Sessions was to allow SIUE community members to voice their feelings in response to national and campus racial issues, as well as to share their own experiences.
“A lot of times, the institutions, we don’t actually hear people’s true experiences on campus. We make assumptions sometimes, but this was an opportunity for people to really share their actual experiences,” Wagner said. “And then of course the idea is then at the end, as with any listening session, is that it starts to offer steps or tangible ideas that can be used to move a community forward.”
At the end of each session, Wagner said she asks participants for ideas that can be implemented on campus.
“Some examples might be more curriculum-focused. Maybe they’re more about how we [can] incorporate anti-racist information, whether that be readings or trainings or ideas within the curriculum, whereas maybe another idea might focus more on hiring,” Wagner said.
Wagner said she hopes listening sessions provide a way for people to have their voices heard.
“Sometimes, as is the case in real life and not just a specific session, sometimes as a person we just want to be heard. You know, we just want to be listened to. And so I do hope that that was kind of the first thing that happened,” Wagner said. “And then also, I hope that they can see this as something that could be done again and that they may be interested in participating again. I think that a lot of times people do want to be involved, or do want to make change on campus, but they’re not sure how, and so sometimes this is a good, accessible, easy first step.”
Robin Ermer, office support specialist at the Kimmel Student Involvement Center, said she participated in a Listening Session to help improve the lives of students of color.
“I just really want to know what myself and my department can do to improve the lives of the students, the students of color … basically all of the students, how I can improve their experience,” Ermer said.
Ermer said the session was helpful because it allowed her to see that others seem to be sharing similar thoughts.
“I can see that others had the same thoughts that I had, that we’re all kind of on the same page on our desire to improve and help our university to move forward,” Ermer said.
Gloria Sweida, assistant professor of management and marketing, also attended a session. She said she participated to express her thoughts and hear the thoughts of others.
“I didn’t have any expectations of anything to gain, other than to maybe express myself and hear what other people were thinking. And so, [I] just wanted to see where other peoples’ heads were and, you know, if I was in the same place as others or if there were other things I should be thinking about that I wasn’t,” Sweida said.
Sweida said she shared during the session that she was angry with herself.
“I’ve considered myself sort of an educated person, and that I understood what words like systemic racism and institutionalized racism mean, at least I thought I did. And I’m upset with myself because I’m recognizing how little I really knew, and how much there is still to learn about,” Sweida said. “I’m angry with myself because I realize that by not becoming more educated on the topic, I’ve been complicit in the perpetuation of institutionalized racism.”
To learn more about the CSDI, visit their website.