August 30, 2018

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Listening, Affirming and Learning

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“I want to thank you for sharing. I hear what you’re saying and I want to let you know how that makes me feel.”

I stopped short during my brisk walk to class as I saw two students, staring squarely at each other, maintaining eye contact, affirming one another’s words and exemplifying empathy. From their lanyards and newly purchased Cornell gear, I quickly deduced that these were new members of our community, already taking advantage of what I believe is the most valuable resource on campus — each other.

I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and view this as an impact of the Intergroup Dialogue Project. The Intergroup Dialogue Project is an academic initiative grounded in theory and practice that creates community across difference through dialogue. This fall marked the first time all first-year students participated in a three hour IDP session as part of their orientation. In order to accomplish this, a true horde of alumni facilitators, staff facilitators and student facilitators filtered through rooms across campus, training all 3,325 students. IDP for all freshmen marks the first step in the implementation of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate series of recommendations.

I remember my own first experience with IDP, walking into the classroom as an underclassman staring at strangers around the room. “I am a teacher and a learner in this course,” we all repeated. In four short weeks, I had shared more about myself to this group of peers than I had to my closest friends at home. It was a space where I explored my own identity and found power in my narrative. It was a space where I found more similarities than differences, and where discovering shared meaning was a commitment held by all parties.

In the freshman orientation session, I shared more about identity in 10 minutes than I had with some of my extended family. I felt students finding connections among their peers. I felt an indescribable amount of amazement watching these students, who just landed on this campus at most 4 days earlier to a new life on the hill, sharing their life stories with their peers and finding a sense of belonging.

Upon personal reflection, it is hard to think of a role that I have held where I didn’t use the tools I have learned in facilitator training. IDP has been fundamental to not only my personal development but my leadership and professional development as well. As a resident advisor, I used frameworks from training to help my residents begin to unpack their identity. As a teacher in a San Francisco, I adapted course materials to provide an IDP experience for ninth grade students; to this day I still get text messages from them sharing how they have been able to apply the course materials and further explore their identity. As a volunteer in India, it was through finding common ground and shared meaning that I was able to connect with individuals even if I didn’t have the language to do so.

Cornell University invests energy and capital to recruit world class talent. It is astounding to think about what we would learn from one another if we listened, if we took the time to actively listen to others and have the space to hear each other’s narratives. Viewing higher education as a laboratory for leadership, for building global citizens, and for incentivizing collaboration across difference is achieved through these sorts of interactions.

Dustin Liu is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and he currently serves as the undergraduate student-elected trustee on the Cornell Board of Trustees. He may be reached at dliu@cornellsun.com. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.