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Saturday, December 20, 2014

You in Mizzou' engages students, faculty in discussions about diversity

The discussion was part of the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative.

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A group of nearly 20 students and faculty gathered for a "You In Mizzou" discussion. The small circle dialogue allowed participants to share ideas and experiences about their own cultures.

Beatriz Costa-Lima/Senior Staff Photographer

A group of nearly 20 people sat in a circle and introduced themselves and where they were from.

Graduate student Patti Quackenbush introduced herself first.

"When I introduce myself," she said. "I say I'm pink because I'm half white, half Native American."

The rest of the group followed Quackenbush's example and discovered that the people seated near them came from all over the world: Canada, Malaysia, China, Germany, Missouri, Illinois, Utah, Indiana and a variety of other locations.

Graduate student Yuan Gao had a group of strangers engaged in conversation within minutes with one question: "What does culture mean?"

This diverse group participated in last night's "You in Mizzou" discussion, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Experiencing Cultural Differences." Participants discussed the meaning of culture and personal experience.

Gao's question brought up a variety of answers. Some said culture consists of one's individual beliefs and values. Others found culture to be the traditions of a group of people. The question lead to an even broader conversation about how one develops a sense of culture and how to approach those from other backgrounds. For nearly two hours, the participants shared laughs, stories and ideas.

"You in Mizzou" is a discussion series run by the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative. The monthly meetings consist of small-circle dialogues on topics regarding different kinds of diversity, Gao said. Gao, who is an assistant with the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative office, supervises the discussions.

"We want to create a safe space for people to share opinions," Gao said. "We want students to come and enjoy the environment. It's a democratic discussion as opposed to a debate or argument."

Gao said participant feedback has been positive and people regularly feel open to share ideas and understand those of others.

In a previous meeting, the dialogue centered around the issue of abortion and ideas behind pro-life and pro-choice arguments.

Gao said that instead of turning into a heated argument, participants engaged in a civil discussion.

"We had everyone fill out a feedback form and people said that they were surprised by themselves that they were capable of having a civilized discussion about this really heated topic," Gao said. "It's about learning to respect others and be exposed to different ideas. Part of our philosophy is that we can agree to disagree."

Quackenbush serves as a volunteer facilitator for the "You in Mizzou" discussions. She became a volunteer after seeking out more ways to get involved with cultural activities. Quackenbush engages with the groups by proposing questions to get discussions started.

The next dialogue will occur during Black History Month and center around the topic of race, Gao said.

Before college, Quackenbush didn't have the opportunity to embrace her Native American culture.

"If I can help show someone something new, I feel like I've done my job," Quackenbush said. "This is an opportunity for participants to get out of their comfort zone and talk about things that don't get talked about or that might be taboo."

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