The Bridge offers space for education students to explore social justice

College of Education Dean Kathryn Chval: “We’re preparing and trying to equip people to work with others that differ from themselves.”
Townsend Hall, next to Jesse Hall, is illuminated on April 5 at night. The Bridge, a College of Education initiative to open conversations about diversity, is in room 220 in Townsend Hall.

As the campus conversation on diversity has continued to grow, the College of Education decided to create a space for their students to engage in conversations and expand their perspectives on social justice.

In August 2015, the college launched a safe space in 220 Townsend Hall, known as The Bridge, to prepare students for a culturally diverse workplace.

“The primary goal is to provide a space and an initiative that is geared towards equity, inclusion and diversity for the College of Education and all of its constituents,” said Tajanette Sconyers, one of two graduate assistants who work in The Bridge.

The college hopes to fulfill many goals through their services.

“We’re preparing and trying to equip people to work with others that differ from themselves,” Acting Dean Kathryn Chval said.

The name was inspired by a poem published in The New York Times titled “To Become a Bridge.” The poem, written by a Yale student from Jackson, Mississippi, addresses the challenges faced by an underprivileged student at a privileged university and the emotions his situation evokes. The very first Bridge event involved a discussion focused around the poem, which reads, “For I am a bridge that connects places that are uncomfortable with one another, a bridge that says we won’t treat disadvantaged kids as the other.”

The Bridge holds events such as movie screenings, book discussions, one-on-one conversations, research discussions and student discussions concerning topics such as race, gender and disabilities.

During these events, students are invited to make themselves at home in the space that was designed to feel similar to a living room, with couches, chairs and ottomans. The Bridge provides a comfortable, safe environment for students to open up and discuss what are usually uncomfortable conversation topics.

Chval also utilizes The Bridge as an opportunity to interact with students and give them a chance to share personal experiences or concerns.

Chval hosts a monthly event titled “Real Talk & Cookies with Kathryn” in The Bridge where education students are invited to stop by for an hour and speak with Chval about any issues they may be facing and any solutions they may have.

The Research Discussion Series invites students and faculty to review faculty research on diversity, inclusion, social justice and marginalization and discuss their findings.

The Bridge also welcomes students in to speak with other students, faculty and staff about anything diversity-related. Multiple weekly discussions are held as part of the Research Discussion Series, Book Discussion Series and Student Discussion Series. Anyone can make a one-on-one appointment or simply stop by and start a conversation with one of the graduate assistants.

“As a function of attending Bridge events, students will be able to learn…and gain cultural sensitivity,” Sconyers said.

The Bridge was created as a safe space for students to come and decompress from any marginalized situations they have experienced or witnessed on or off campus.

Chval emphasized that The Bridge was not created to only hold conversations on race. While race does play a big factor in marginalization, Chval noted that students can also be marginalized based on gender, sexual orientation, disability and other factors and she wants all students to feel included in the conversation.

Conversations about creating the space began in fall 2014, Sconyers said.

The idea was presented to Chval in a graduate student focus group meeting. A student suggested that a space be created where students could come together and engage in difficult dialogues, Chval said.

“I asked them to make a list of verbs. They came up with: learn, take risks, interact with people that differ from themselves and engage in difficult dialogues about things that typically aren’t talked about,” Chval said.

With students’ input in mind, Chval and others in the college began constructing The Bridge.

The Bridge is hosting “Challenging the Culture of Cruelty: Understanding and Defeating Race and Class Inequality in America” with speaker and diversity author Tim Wise on Monday, May 9 at Jesse Auditorium.

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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