A new series of “Don’t Bite Your Tongue” dinners brings together Clark University students – face-to-face in their residence halls – for challenging discussions on topics often kept “off the table.”
The premise of the dinners is to allow for an open conversation on a potentially contentious issue, such as politics, religion, and race. Barbara Bigelow, professor of management at the Graduate School of Management introduced the dinners to the community last fall. They are co-sponsored by the Difficult Dialogues Initiative of the Higgins School of Humanities, the Dean of Students Office, and Residential Life and Housing
“I have wanted to do these for many years,” Bigelow says. “In my course The Art and Science of Management, I require students to hold a dialogue on campus on any topic of their choosing, and this activity always leads to a conversation about topics we’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table in order to maintain a civil meal. I have commented to the class for many years that I would like to start a dinner where we talked about exactly those topics using a dialogic approach that would enable conversation across differences.”
However, this was no solo project, Bigelow points out. She received startup help from former Associate Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, professor of education Eric DeMeulenaere, and professor of history Amy Richter (also the director of the Higgins School of Humanities). The program was implemented with the help of Dean of Students Denise Darrigrand, and Residential Life and Housing Director Kevin Forti and staff Maria Cerce, Maxie Holman, DaVaughn Vincent-Bryan, Alex Villagomez, and Sarah Bergeron.
“Whenever I go to a Don’t Bite Your Tongue event, I’m surprised. … listening to others and being involved in the talk afterward gave me a better understanding of my own thoughts for each of the topics.” – Marian Crockett ’16
Bigelow was more than pleasantly surprised at the amount of attendees during the fall, she says, and is excited that students share her enthusiasm for these events. Since they are open conversations, students from any class, graduate students, faculty, staff, and administrators are all invited. Marian Crockett ’16 can speak to what she usually hears in the resident halls; she is a Resident Advisor and says she enjoys being able to hear fellow students and peers discuss what people don’t normally talk about in a public setting.
“Whenever I go to a Don’t Bite Your Tongue event, I’m surprised. Almost every time I felt as if I were unprepared for the discussion, for it was something that I didn’t talk about or think about that much in my own life, like politics,” Crockett says. “However, I’m glad I went and suffered through the quick, awkward sharing of my own experiences, because listening to others and being involved in the talk afterward gave me a better understanding of my own thoughts for each of the topics.”
The “Don’t Bite Your Tongue” dinner calendar for the spring 2014 semester is as follows: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, Hughes Hall; 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, Dodd Hal; 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, Blackstone Hall. Dinner will be provided, and attendees are asked to come only with an open mind, and the readiness to “challenge our underlying assumptions about ourselves and others.”