By Rachel Morford, news co-editor
Students and staff gathered Wednesday at noon in what once was the Curry Student Center game room to share pizza, soda and conversations about inclusivity. The Center for Intercultural Engagement hosted a dialogue focused on the intersectionality of identity, the first in a series called “Conversations That Matter: Campus Dialogue Initiative.”Bob Jose, the associate dean of Cultural, Spiritual and Residential Life at Northeastern, and Dr. Chong Sun Kim-Wong, senior director of student affairs operations, co-hosted the event, which was the first held at the venue. Jose said he wanted the center to serve a unique role on campus.
“We need a place to have conversations that matter,” he said. “Conversations that are important. Conversations that are hard to have. [The center] will be a place of training, where we teach people how to have these difficult conversations.”
Jose opened the dialogue with an explanation about how the conception of the center arose.
“When we have the identity discussion, we recognize that identity – each of us has several of them, and they intersect,” Jose said. “Was there a place on campus that totally focused on that? The idea was pitched to [Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun], and he agreed.”
Jose said he wanted the center to form in the direction students lead it. For this reason, the center’s future has been left partially unplanned.
“It is critical that we have student input,” Jose said. “This is just the starting point. We purposefully designed it that way.”
On the walls were signs which represented various aspects of identity, including race, religion, disability status, sexual orientation and gender. Kim-Wong, who led the activity, would read a statement to the group and participants would move to the sign that they most identified with. Once in groups, the ensuing conversations covered topics like police brutality, religious stereotypes, transgender struggles, immigration law and socioeconomic privilege.
Sixteen people representing a variety of backgrounds participated. The group included Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service staff and members of the Feminist Student Organization (FSO) and Pan Asian American Queer Alliance.
Throughout the event, Kim-Wong continually emphasized that the center was a location free of judgement. Some individuals said this emphasis was essential to their experience in the dialogue.
“Somehow everyone just really opened up,” said Nicole Erikson, a third-year marketing major and director of operations of FSO. “It is a testament to the skill of the moderators and their commitment to maintain the safety of the space.”
After engaging in the dialogue, Erikson already has ideas for how the center could serve both her organization and the Northeastern campus in general.
“I’m definitely going to tell a bunch of other student groups about [the center], because it seems the space is for us,” she said. “Right now, [student groups] are sort of operating alone, without a whole bunch of communication. I think [the center] will be a place for like-minded groups to meet.”