Strangers sharing dinner tables at Central Michigan University’s first-ever Conversations that Matter event spiced up their meals with tough topics of conversation.
The event, hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity, brought together members of the CMU community from many ethnicities, education levels and backgrounds to discuss an often-polarizing topic while sharing a meal.
October’s conversation focused on participants’ experiences with and understanding of immigration.
A.T. Miller, vice president and chief diversity officer, said the goal was to gather people together not as experts challenging each other’s ideas but as participants listening to diverse perspectives and opinions.
Representatives from each table shared key takeaways from the group discussion.
Starting the conversation
Approximately 130 people attended the event, including students, staff, faculty, senior leaders, and community members from Mount Pleasant and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.
Participants were strategically assigned to tables for diversity.
Prakash Adhikari, a political science faculty member, opened the event with statistics about forced migration and immigration. He said 68.5 million people worldwide are currently being forcibly displaced from their homes, and millions more are seeking asylum or are refugees with no choice but to flee their country.
Making the uncomfortable more comfortable
A student facilitator guided discussion at each table of eight, asking a series of three questions and ensuring that each person had a chance to speak.
Gwen Bagley, a senior sociology: youth studies and cultural and global studies major from Albion, Michigan, facilitated for a group that included faculty, students, staff, alumni and CMU President Bob Davies.
Bagley said student facilitators had no prior knowledge of the questions and were not expected to be experts on immigration — their role was simply to keep the conversation rolling.
"It was really incredible to sit and discuss real-world issues including our personal connections to immigration in a group that was so diverse. To have a representative from each part of our university all sit, share a meal and speak to one another about an issue that matters was truly amazing,” Badgley said.
The next Conversations that Matter is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. Nov. 7 in the Powers Hall Ballroom, following the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Abby Fischer, University Communications intern