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Courageous Conversations help students lean into discomfort

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Crammed around a Harkness table, students and faculty sat down together to discuss uncomfortable and important conversations last Wednesday and Thursday. The Courageous Conversations activity took place at St. Paul Academy on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25.

On the first day, the entire upper school gathered in Huss for an assembly run by Sarah Bellamy from the Penumbra Theatre accompanied by Karen Dye and Jill Romans, to discuss the activity that everyone was about to take part in. The Penumbra Theatre has worked with SPA for many years now and has done many activities with students and staff that have helped or taught us in some way. Bellamy discussed the specific morals and equity rules students should observe while participating in the uncomfortable discussions that were soon to come.

To give students more resources and tools primarily to have conversations that are difficult and challenging around areas of identity, not just race, even though it is centered around race.”

— Karen Dye

Once the assembly was over, students and staff filed into their designated rooms which they shared with two other advisories. Soon, students were split into two groups and given a scenario to discuss. With the combination of long silent pauses, nervous laughter and awkward looks, students respectfully discussed the uncomfortable and difficult scenarios.

Before participating, some students were nervous and scared of what was to come. Some of these scenarios included aspects of racism, hate crimes, conflict between political parties and sexual assault. These specific topics aren’t usually talked about in an open discussion.,

“I definitely felt a little worried about having to share my opinions about stuff I don’t usually talk about,” freshman Emily Gisser said.

Sophomore Jax Wittenberg explains his experience in taking part in the first day of Courageous Conversations.

“I mostly enjoyed it. It was a nice experience to talk about something so serious with a big group of people with different backgrounds. I think it was very important to have these conversations because I think it’s beneficial towards the community as well as being aware of these subjects. We need to be aware of these subjects and acknowledge they are happening, but also become comfortable talking about such serious topics,” Wittenberg said.

 

The second day consisted of students speaking to other students within their grade individually about a specific prompt. Some of the prompts included racism, discrimination against immigrants and students who believe something isn’t worth discussing because it doesn’t apply to them. Students shared their opinions on the prompt with their peers one-on-one. Once finished with listening and discussing with a partner, students wrote down on a piece of paper where they thought their own and their partner’s perspectives lay on the Courageous Conversations compass: either coming from an intellectual, moral, emotional or relational standpoint.

The original intent of this activity, director of intercultural life Karen Dye said, was “To give students more resources and tools primarily to have conversations that are difficult and challenging around areas of identity, not just race, even though it is centered around race.”

She also hopes faculty can use these resources and tools to not only get better at having their own difficult conversations with others but to also be able to manage classroom discussions that do get tense or controversial in a productive way.

 

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