Campus event facilitated open conversations over pasta dinner


Participants discuss their personal experience with immigration at the Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion's "Conversations that Matter" event on Oct. 22 in the Bovee University Center Rotunda.

To begin discussions on tough topics like politics and social issues, the Office of Diversity Education held its first "Conversations that Matter" event at 5 p.m. on Oct 22 in the Bovee University Center Rotunda.

Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer A.T. Miller introduced the event and gave instructions on how the dinner event would proceed. 

“Our intentions this evening is really to hear from each other,” Miller said. “Very few people here are experts, but all of us are people with an interest or a connection in some way with this issue.”

The issue being discussed was contemporary immigration.

The event began with each table grabbing food from the pasta buffet. Participants were able to create their own pasta and pick up a dessert on their way back to their seats. The dinner portion lasted about 20 to 30 minutes. 

Once everyone had gotten a plate, there was a short topic overview from Prakash Adhikari, political science and public administration faculty member. Within his introduction to the topic he explained the difference between a refugee and a voluntary migrant. 

Adhikari began by asking several questions for the audience to ponder which included "How many people do you think are displaced from their home country, how many refugees are there in the world and how many refugees are internally displaced within their home country?"

Later in his overview, Adhikari gave thought-provoking answers to these questions. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we live in troubled times,” Adhikari said. “There are 68.5 million people that are forcibly displaced from their home countries today. To put that in perspective, that is more people than the combined population of Canada and Australia.”  

Then, the individual dinner table discussions began. At each table there was a mix of students, faculty, community members and facilitators. 

Students that showed up together in groups were asked to sit at different tables in order to provide more diverse conversation with different perspectives. 

Facilitators asked questions and provided each person at the table an opportunity to give an answer. The questions asked were about personal experiences with immigration and immigration challenges that Central Michigan University community members face.

Each question was allotted 15 minutes to be discussed before the next appeared on the screen. Participants were asked to hold their comments and questions until after everyone had answered the question. 

Towards the end of the evening, each table had one person summarize what was discussed and the highlight of their dinner conversation. 

During this portion of the event, one table mentioned the fear aspect of immigration. Many immigrants are fearful of what will happen to them if they say or do the wrong thing. This particular table explained why discussions like these are important to have when dealing with sensitive topics as such. 

The following table discussed social injustice and how it should be incorporated into K-12 curriculum. They discussed the importance of teaching social injustice to children at a young age when they are most open-minded. 

Hannah Bartol, Escanaba senior and student assistant for the Office of Native American Programs, said the mix between faculty, staff and students was essential to the success of the event. 

“Higher administration needed to hear what students had to say,” Bartol said. “Our voices need to be heard, not only in the CMU or Mount Pleasant community, but throughout the nation. Education is essential and this is a great place to start.”