As one of their first steps to dealing with campus climate, the ASSU President John-Lancaster Finley ’16 and Vice President Brandon Hill ’16 hosted approximately 30 student leaders from different areas of campus life at an event called Real Talk, which was designed to facilitate conversation.
“Administrators we’ve met with have said this has been the most challenging, divisive, controversial year of their careers here at Stanford,” Hill said, explaining why this event was created.
Hill listed some of the contentious issues that Stanford faced this year, including the Black Lives Matter protests, the “conversations on sexual assault and incidents with different fraternities,” the ASSU Senate’s vote on divestment and the ASSU elections themselves.
An event like Real Talk “was…something that John and I were passionate about doing,” Hill said, adding that the goal of the event was not to solve all of the divisions within the Stanford community, but to encourage healthy dialogue.
“Not everyone has to agree, and not everyone has to be best friends, but I think that there can be some civility,” Hill said. “When students don’t trust other students…that’s not healthy. We want people to be able to debate and disagree while seeing each other as humans and not as headlines… And so we sat down and we created this event.”
Hill said that he and Finley wanted Real Talk to be as inclusive as possible and to hear from multiple perspectives, which is why they invited such a broad array of students.
“We brought heads of certain Greek organizations…We brought class president representatives; we brought frosh representatives; we brought leaders from the queer community, from the black community, representatives from SOOP [Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine], C for P [Coalition for Peace]; we had activists on sexual assault,” Hill said. “We tried to get a really wide cross-section of campus representing a variety of different viewpoints, including…center viewpoints, to be in this big room.”
Hill said that most attendees of the event reported that they thought it was a good first step.
“We knew it was not going to be a one-hit wonder,” Hill said. He and Finley plan to continue their efforts in the fall with other events designed to bridge divides.
Hill said that some participants had approached him or Finley afterwards and said that something someone else had said during the discussion had deeply affected them and impacted the way they plan to behave in the future.
However, some student leaders who participated in Real Talk expressed disappointment with how the event had been conducted or even with the idea of the event itself. Many people are tired of the “d word” (dialogue), Hill said.
“If I’m sitting face-to-face with my enemy, there’s nothing I can do to change their mind,” was a sentiment that Hill said some attendees conveyed as reasons for their frustration with the event. But Hill made clear that the goal of Real Talk was not to change minds, but to begin to heal the deep divisions in the Stanford community, and he considers it to have been largely successful.
“You’re not going to solve a year, or multiple years of tension with a two-hour event, but we wanted to get the ball rolling,” Hill said.
Contact Sarah Wishingrad at swishing ‘at’ stanford.edu.