(Re)Starting the Conversation
As part of National Week of Conversations, students in NC State’s Campus Conversations Project will facilitate a special dialogue on June 17 about how to bring communities closer together during isolating and polarizing times.
In a year when the headlines have been dominated by a global pandemic, racial strife and a widening political divide, there has been plenty to talk about. Fortunately, NC State’s Campus Conversations Project (CCP) has provided lots of opportunities for dialogue between students, faculty and staff.
Although it evolved from similar programs in the past, the CCP officially started in summer 2020, just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Since last May, the CCP has hosted 27 virtual events that have drawn nearly 500 participants. Seventeen different topics were selected based on current events, including “Exploring Race and Ethnicity, To Vote or Not to Vote, Police & Community Relations, Transitions of Power in America, and Solitude vs. Isolation.” An average of 70 students and 12 student facilitators attended each event.
Cyrus Rad (electrical engineering and computer engineering ’21) and Lily Morrell (economics and business administration ’22) served as co-directors for the program this year. Under the guidance of Scott O’Leary, Honors and Scholars Village director and faculty and staff lead for the CCP, Rad and Morrell manage partnerships, train student facilitators, reach out to new student groups and facilitate conversations.
“Across campus, students commented on how, despite the need to host these events virtually due to the pandemic, they felt they could not only connect and engage with each other, but that during the course of each 1.5-hour conversation they really began to understand each other,” O’Leary said. “From hearing about each others’ experiences, they could also see why their classmates disagreed or held different views from each other.”
Rad initially started working on the project in summer 2019, when Caldwell Fellows Director Janice Odom connected him to the Office of Outreach and Engagement and the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI). He started as a summer intern for IEI’s Civic Conversations Initiative, creating spaces for intentional campus conversation across the widening chasms of social difference. From there, the CCP was born.
“From the first conversation, I was moved by the deeply personal nature of the engagement,” Rad said. “A group of almost strangers quickly opened up to one another about our upbringingings, values, hopes and fears. I learned from everyone in the room and left with a newfound appreciation for the unique blend of thoughts and experiences that make up each individual in my communities.”
As a member of the Honors and Scholars Village in her first year, Morrell attended many conversation events and joined the CCP when it was formed in 2020.
“I have seen members of our community cry, laugh, express anger, and have seen dozens of students make new relationships,” Morrell said. “These conversations have taught me so much about the experiences of others and have given me the space and time to reflect and learn about my own experiences. Due to the impact these conversations have had on me and the impacts I’ve observed, I feel incredibly honored to be able to serve and help grow this project.”
The project has partnered with many organizations and departments across the university this year, including the Caldwell Fellows, Honors and Scholars Village, Living and Learning Villages and NC State Libraries. The CCP has formed new partnerships this summer as well. This July, the CCP will partner with the four-week summer course Wicked Problems, Wolfpack Solutions. As part of an engagement activity in the course for new students and their families, the CCP will host more than 80 living room-style conversations on topics relevant to the course’s theme of global change.
“We jumped at the opportunity to work with the Wicked Problems course because of how well our missions align,” Rad said. “We can serve them by providing a space for students to further explore topics discussed in class, while they enable us to reach thousands of new students who can help build a culture of conversation at NC State. By integrating CCP conversations into the course, we’re hoping to enrich the learning experience for students and help set them up for a successful NC State career.”
The CCP has also partnered with the Department of Communications Public Speaking courses and Living and Learning Villages for further programming this fall.
“Our long-term goal is for every undergraduate — and any graduate — student to not only have the opportunity, but the experience of participating in a Campus Conversation before they graduate,” O’Leary said.
Continuing the Conversation
There is a special upcoming opportunity to be part of the conversation this summer. This Thursday, June 17, from 6-8 p.m. the NC State community is invited for a special summer event for National Week of Conversations. The topic is “Weave the Social Fabric,” and participants will discuss how to bring communities together during increasingly isolated and polarizing times. NC State students, faculty and staff are invited to register here.