Deans hold first xTalks in Biscoh
By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, February 19, 2013
In an attempt to break with what they described as the predominant culture of silence at the College, roughly 20 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Biscoh lounge in the Choates residential cluster on Monday and engaged in a lively and heated exchange about campus climate. The conversation was the first in a series of experimental discussions titled “xTalks,” hosted by the Undergraduate Deans Office.
The discussions aim to help students integrate academic lives with social experiences and blur the line between what happens inside and outside the classroom, said assistant dean of undergraduate students Paul Buckley, who is spearheading the initiative along with the Deans Office Student Consultants.
Grace Afsari-Mamagani ’13, a DOSC who moderated the discussion, began by explaining that the meeting was an attempt to bring disparate conversations that occur on campus into one room.
The panelists, including Greek Leadership Council moderator Duncan Hall ’13, Class of 2016 Council president Akash Kar ’16 and English professor Jeff Sharlet, briefly shared their perspectives on what constitutes Dartmouth culture before the moderator opened up the conversation to the audience.
Another experimental discussion will take place this term and Buckley expects xTalks events to occur once every two or three weeks in the spring. The talks will rotate through residential clusters and feature at least one faculty member panelist along with students.
Representing a wide range of views on the panels can be difficult, Buckley said.
“We really want to hear from multiple positions, and we will decide going forward and it will always be tricky and interesting, whose voices we don’t hear as much,” he said.
Unlike forums where panelists speak for the majority of the time and then open up the floor, the xTalks focus on engaging with audience members.
“We want a very interactive conversation,” he said.
The talks are targeted at all members of the Dartmouth community, and can help upperclassmen demonstrate engagement with campus issues while including freshmen in campus dialogue.
The Dean’s Office chose to focus on campus climate for the first discussion because it was interested in beginning a conversation about “what we all are a part of creating,” Buckley said.
While he appreciates the creation of a forum that fosters conversation between individuals with different viewpoints, Kar said he wished that more students had attended. Despite the convenient location, no freshmen from the Choates were in the audience.
Holding the discussions in students’ living spaces instead of a classroom creates a direct connection between their social interactions and intellectual engagement, Hannah Jung ’15 said.
The back and forth between the panelists and audience members helped make the discussion more dynamic.
“I loved the fact that it began with the panelists speaking and then shifted gears to audience participation,” she said.
Jung was impressed by students’ willingness to share their opinions and the respectful atmosphere that developed in the room.
“Professor Sharlet used a swear word, and that was perfectly acceptable,” she said. “That just reflects the amount of comfort and trust that we built in an hour.”
The dialogue was a good example of how debating and expressing different opinions can be productive, Choates community director Dan Smith said.
“There were definite heated moments, and I think that’s needed on this campus,” he said.
Afsari-Mamagani is a former member of The Dartmouth Senior Staff.