Episode 2: Creating Space for Dialogue

We Need to Talk. Brought to you by DOS and ASG. Episode #2: Creating space for dialogue with guests Dr. Denise Taliaferro Baszile, Jasmine Floyd, and Joe DelaneyIn our second episode, we explore creating space to engage in dialogue across difference and how to do that without disproportionately burdening those from marginalized communities. Our expert for the episode is Dr. Denise Taliaferro Baszile, Associate Dean of Diversity and Student Experience and Professor in Educational Leadership. Dr. Denise discussed the context for creating space to engage in dialogue across difference and provided several tips on how to do so.

This conversation is followed by a conversation with two students, Jasmine Floyd and Joe Delaney, who discuss their experiences and ways to amplify the conversation to encourage peers to move through the discomfort and engage across difference.

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Segment Takeaways

  • Takeaway #1: Focus on Problem Solving first and then use these spaces to reveal more about yourself and talk through your differences.
  • Takeaway #2: We often think that feelings get in the way of right thinking, but Dr. Denise says to embrace feelings because feelings are a part of the way you think. If you aren't making space for feelings, then those repressed feelings tend to spill over in problematic ways.
  • Takeaway #3: It is ok to have a home base that feels comfortable, but challenge yourself to be a border crosser and experience spaces that are different than your own identity.


Kimberly Moore: Well, Good morning, I'm Kimberly Moore and I'm Dean of Students and welcome to our podcast "We Need To Talk.

Jessica von Zastrow: And I'm Jessica von Zastrow, the current student vice president and we need to talk.

Denise Taliaferro Baszile: I am Denise Taliaferro Baszile, I am the interim dean for the College of Education, Health and Society and I am excited to be here because, guess what, we need to talk.

Kimberly Moore: It's so wonderful. We're thrilled to have you here and in our last episode we talked about the importance of dialogue across difference and students talked about the various barriers they see holding them back from engaging in dialogue with those with different viewpoints and experiences. Because they were afraid of making mistake or being called out or even causing harm.

So in many situations we surround ourselves with people who hold the same ideas, beliefs, or identities as ourselves. And so my question for you is how can we encourage students to have discussion with people who have different beliefs than our own while also recognizing that braving those spaces doesn't look the same for those that come from marginalized communities.

Denise Taliaferro Baszile: That's a really important question. Like all the research shows us that college students tend to stay in their own little bubbles even when they go to college. They tend to be around folks who they spend most of their time with. I feel like we have to create spaces for authentic dialogue. And I think a lot of times we're spending a lot of time trying to put them together in situations that from their perspective don't really feel authentic.

People do better in these conversations where the primary issue isn't so much focused on them revealing their deepest feelings or inner most self, but where the focus is on problem solving like there's a problem, there's an issue that we need to work together on. And then I've learned I am learning how to use that problem solving as a space to sort of better integrate opportunities for people to reveal more of themselves. And I tell students all the time that I don't I think we often learn that feelings get in the way of right thinking. And what I've been trying to say is 'No. No, they don't'. That, you know, feelings are a part of the way that we think and if we aren't acknowledging them, if we aren't making space for those feelings even in a discussion, create a space where people can't feel and can't connect their feeling to their thinking processes, then you just get a whole bunch of repressed feelings that spill over in very problematic ways. I know we all have those moments where our emotions sort of overtake us. And that's because we haven't necessarily learned how to instead of talking around our feelings or talking in spite of our feelings, talking through our feelings is central to the way we think and theorize and relate to one another.

Jessica von Zastrow: Yeah, I mean you touched on a couple of really important concepts right there. I personally am a business economics and a political science major. And so throughout my courses I have had some of those discussions and those dialogues. People are willing to be open. And they're willing to feel. Which you also mentioned is one of those key elements of how to have a successful dialogue.

Also considering those instances where people are having that organic dialogue, maybe they're sitting down at a dining hall table with a friend and having a conversation. Or they're in a residence hall room and up at 2 a.m. having a conversation about one another's lives. Oftentimes what we find is that individuals with minoritized or marginalized identities have this disproportionate burden to teach. So how can we how can students take personal responsibility and accountability for their own learning rather than just proportionately burdening those with marginalized identities to teach?

Denise Taliaferro Baszile: I have lots to say about that. You know, I think sometimes the way in which this happens is, you know, the students with minoritized identities are bearing a heavy load. I am one who also does not like to give those students permission not to participate in the conversation. But also, I'm always trying to encourage them to figure out how to do it in a way where you change the tide, you know.

A lot of times students of color will come to me and say they don't speak up because they don't want to speak for everybody or they don't want their experiences to be the only one. And I really would challenge them on that, first of all, because I feel like I hear you. But whose problem is it, really? If they think that you can speak for every person of color, every black person or every Asian person or every LGBTQ person? That's not really your problem. That is a problem, you know, constructed out there. And if you take responsibility for it, if you self silence in order to remove yourself from that situation, it just it creates more problems than it actually relieves and your voice is not heard.

So, for the majority students and whatever arrangement of identities, I say one way to take some responsibility is to take the initiative to educate yourself. And I think, again, this is around authentic problem solving. And, you know, creating spaces and opportunities or situation where students need to come together to solve some kind of problem or issue. If we're trying to lean into solving problems in a way that's equitable, then, we have to also engage them in an equity sort of framework, in an equity framework we're constantly asking ourselves, questions reflecting on how our own identities and biases and experiences play into the ways in which we solve problems, the things we think about the problems, the things we think about, you know, the people who are also experiencing the problem differently than we are.

And so one last thing I wanted to say about that is several years ago when I was a new professor I was teaching a race and education class. And I had remarkably about half of my class was students of color. And, you know, the first day of class everybody we go around in the circle and everybody is saying what they want to get out of this class. And everybody is saying they want to learn more about other people. They want to talk through some of these issues. But as we progress through the semester like dialogue was just it was a struggle. Like the white students barely wanted to talk at all. A lot of the students of color, you know, they tell you what they think with all that body language.

And so a student came to my office, an African American male student came to my office and he was like, 'Professor T, this is a wonderful class. Everybody should have to take it. But I'm not learning anything new.' And you know, you don't say that to a professor, you know? I was like, 'What, you're not learning anything new?' 

What he was saying was he feels like the students of color in the class are bearing the burden for dialogue. They're putting all their stories forward and the white students are staying relatively silent. You know, our ideas, let's get them all together so we can have conversation but they really need to mature in their abilities to have the conversation by having some space to be able to talk through their feelings with people who are having the same feelings as they're having.

Kimberly Moore: Yeah, the other thing is it's not happening in the classroom and it's happening less and less outside the classroom because students are really afraid of making mistakes. And folks tend to retreat into their folks that share their experiences and identities. And what's happening you just gave us so many rich ways to foster and create space for dialogue across difference in the classroom which, you know, is phenomenal. So what are the ways students can create those spaces outside the classroom so that we can get students talking to one another again? And how do they do that because in healthy and productive ways for all involved? What has worked well for you outside the classroom?What have you seen work well for students outside the classroom that could also be as effective as those ways we talked about inside the classroom?

Denise Taliaferro Baszile: Some students come to us with a propensity for dialogue, for engaging in dialogue, for bringing other students together. And so to me is especially when you talk about outside of the classroom who are those students and how do we support those students or groups of students in creating these opportunities in authentic ways?

But I also think it takes some really creative energy to do work outside of the classroom. Let's call on the students to identify some challenges and some problems in our landscape of a campus and create diverse groups of students to problem solve around those issues. And in so doing, you know, calling on those of us who, you know, have expertise in the dialogue and to bring the pieces that need to be facilitating dialogue to the table and to help the students do this. I really think if we owned a process as a campus the opportunities to bring students into relationships that are about authentically solving problems that require them to share some of who they are and to learn a lot about who others around the table are. Otherwise we really can't get the problem solved. And how do we invest our entire campus culture with that kind of a process? You know, this is what we do when we're trying to problem solve.

If you're not being transformed in this space and through the process of dialogue, then we're not truly invested in it because that's really its purpose.

Kimberly Moore: That's the risk both in and out of the classroom, right? That's the risk. And that's what's so interesting about you saying what really is a quote, unquote, safe space and it's the relationship building and, particularly situations outside the classroom.

Jessica von Zastrow: Yeah, I think throughout this conversation we've touched on a lot of key parts of creating a space for dialogue where everyone can participate in that conversation. Because having every individual who's at that table engaged and willing to share their experiences is key to having that successful dialogue. And so as we are creating these spaces and the students are going into spaces for dialogue, how do you think that they can prepare themselves to engage in this dialogue across difference?

Denise Taliaferro Baszile: I used to challenge students to go out and I would give them a week to do this assignment. You have to go out and you have to go engage with a group of students who are just totally different than you are. You know, because of where I was nine times out of ten this was happening around race. And I'm not asking you to go into these situations and tell me what you learned about them. I want to know what you learned about yourself in this situation. But I say this to all students. And I believe it to be true. You've got to have a home place. You've got to find that place and that group of students that you feel you can most be yourself in. And for most students that is a racially homogeneous group. And that's fine. I think we have to say that a million times. That's fine.

But what is not fine is to refuse to be a border crosser in a diverse world that we have to encourage students to be border crossers. And to not think about that as being inauthentic but to think about that as facilitating different kinds of communication. When I think about the best students, the students who really, you know, step up and shine, they are the students who can move. You know, they got their home base but they are also the students who get out there and move. They connect with other people. They talk to other people. They are I always call them the border crossers. And I think how do we encourage the culture of that?

So I think we have to be able to do that and the way to do that is not to sort of discourage those homogeneous spaces but to understand how they need to be, their relationship with diverse places.

Joe Delaney: Hi, my name is Joe Delaney, I am a sophomore political science, economics double major. I'm from outside Philadelphia. On campus I do debate, I do stand up comedy, I'm a college Republican, I'm on the library's advisory board.

Jasmine Floyd: Hi, I'm Jasmine Floyd. I'm an art education major senior. I'm involved in black women empowered, the action team committee and the student chapter of (inaudible).

Kimberly Moore: So we really want to thank you both for being here. As we talked earlier we are engaging in conversations with students about dialogue across difference and how important that is. But, yet, at the same time, how there's lots of barriers for students to do that with peers who hold different viewpoints and identities.

Today we're focusing specifically on creating space to engage in dialogue across difference and how to do that without disproportionately burdening those from under represented or marginalized communities.

We're excited to talk with both of you today about your experiences. And so our first question for you today is, you know, if you can share a time where you engaged in dialogue with someone who holds different ideas, experiences or identities and how that experience was for you? What stands out, positive ways or challenging elements. Joe, do you want to start?

Joe Delaney: One time I had a discussion with someone, between my best friend three or four years, she's very different from me. I'm a straight white guy. She's black, bisexual, a woman. So different perspectives in our lives, different experiences. And it took us about three years before we had this actual discussion about our differences. Our differences in our lives and things that we experienced. It was a really good conversation for discussion. We had the friendship already but then we could kind of talk about she said something 'oh, I've experienced that before,' and vice versa. It was cool hearing her perspective. It took us so long to have that conversation but I'm glad we did. It was a good learning experience and I am a lot closer to her now because of that.

Jasmine Floyd: So I want to say a month or two ago when I had this conversation with an older white woman about stuff relating to my teaching philosophy which involves, as far as my- the importance for me and for my future students is to have that representation and etc. Pertaining to race and stuff like that. And that led me to talk about my experiences at Miami as a Black woman. It wasn't a great conversation because she kept making things about herself. And trying to compare it, I don't know, to my experiences when it just wasn't the same so that's just a short synopsis of a conversation but...

Jessica von Zastrow: Yeah, I think that's a really interesting difference between Jasmine your experience engaging in a conversation versus the conversation that Joe engaged in. I think that Jasmine, one thing you spoke to in particular was that barrier that got in the way of having a strong conversation which was when this individual who you were participating in dialogue with centered the story around their own experiences rather than that listening component.

With your own experiences in mind, what do you think are some overarching barriers that exist for you to trust spaces for dialogue across difference?

Jasmine Floyd: I expect a lot of people or just like a handful of people to be closed minded. And I think something that's important to have when you're coming into a space where, you know, everyone has these different identities and things and differences and stuff is to be open to your previous opinions being challenged and to learning something that you might not know or probably don't know because you don't have that experience as the other person and so forth. I would definitely say the top thing would be being closed minded in spaces where you kind of shouldn't be.

Joe Delaney: Yeah, I 100% agree with Jasmine on that. I think people can be closed minded. I think that people often think they're always right. That anything else is wrong in their mind. I think that's the base issue is people are not willing to come together and talk about different things. Sometimes someone isn't right, there's no right answer. But it's kind of you approach each other, talk about differences, talk about experiences, disagreements when people seldom do that which I think is a big issue.

Kimberly Moore: So, do you both feel like you can show up authentically in dialogue and given your experiences in the past do you feel like you're able to show up authentically and able to show up authentically and willing to show up authentically in dialogue opportunities? Particularly with those individuals who might come from different backgrounds?

Joe Delaney: I think that I can show up authentically with conversations like that. I think sometimes there's a time and place of how much, how often if that makes sense. Do I say everything or do I say a little bit at a time. I try to be as authentic as much as I can. But also I think that part of being authentic is listening to other people say what they're thinking as well. Jasmine's experience the woman was making about her. You have to kind of realize it's conversation and two people and you have to listen to both sides.

Jasmine Floyd: No, I don't think I'm ever really able to. My four years has me just navigating spaces of people who don't look like me and don't have the same experiences. That's something I'm still navigating and I even navigate that now as I'm student teaching and it's something that it takes me a really long time to want to open up to people I've known for even like a month or two. It's not something I can really do on the spot with people I don't know. So I mean it kind of depends on the situation I'm a part of.

Jessica von Zastrow: I think that both of you reiterated a key component of that space which was time. Both of you discussed the fact that time and knowing someone and building that trust is helpful for creating a successful dialogue and being able to show up authentically and have a strong conversation about this dialogue. It isn't something that necessarily comes naturally right away.

And so, how do you know when to participate in space for dialogue with those that hold different viewpoints or experience different identities than yourself? Is there a time when you know that you feel comfortable having those conversations and what indicates that for you?

Joe Delaney: So I guess, definitely again time and place. Something sort of the person you're talking to is going through a rough patch in life or something happens to them that's not the best time to talk about your views or differences. I also think time and place that sometimes you're just having fun you don't pay attention to serious conversation and your differences and experiences you've had. I do think there are times at 3:00 in the morning in your dorm room talking to your friends about different beliefs and things like that.

I do think that time and place is a big thing. And what you're talking about how relevant it is as well. Is there an issue going on? Should conversation be about an actual conversation about sharing ideas or is it sometimes you have to be supportive of the other person?

Jasmine Floyd: I'm honestly not really sure as far as that. I really don't know how to answer that. Because it's one of those things where it's like I kind of I just know. Just based on something that someone says or I think it usually it takes a certain type of conversation to like for me to realize, maybe that I'd be comfortable enough to engage in those conversations, stuff like that. But it's really hard to answer that question to be honest.

Kimberly Moore: What could others do, particularly your peers. What could others do to create more space for these dialogues for dialogue to happen? Is there something that comes to mind for each of you that your peers could do to alleviate that hesitation?

Joe Delaney: To kind of reduce tension I think. A lot of it having the people you're talking to come in open minded and willing to actually converse with you, willing to sort of not just say what they want to say or what they think but really want to try to understand where you're coming from.

I do think that having facilitated in class is a little easier when it comes to being more open minded. Having a professor there in the classroom setting is a little more civil than it might otherwise be. You're almost sort of forced to listen out of respect forced to listen out of respect in the classroom. It almost forces you, possibly, to be more open minded, able to listen more, make it more of a dialogue conversation instead of just saying your side and not hearing what they're saying. I think that can help also.

I do think it's just a level of comfort and a level of just realizing that everyone has to be kind of understanding that it's there to understanding differences and not just saying your own point of view.

Jasmine Floyd: I definitely agree with what Joe just said. It was asked if it was in a classroom setting would I be comfortable or something like that? I can 100% say no just because of my past experiences and as far as it's hard to like to want to open up and say things because 100% of the time I'm always like the only black person in the classroom and usually everyone else is white.

So it's one of those things where I don't want to feel like I have to spotlight on myself or I'm speaking on behalf of the whole like black community and stuff like that. It's just one of those things where, again, it's like kind of got to play by ear. It's a situational thing. Don't know until you get there.

I also agree as far as peers wanting to come in ready to listen and not be defensive and not want to argue with like what someone shares or especially with regards to experiences. And also something that's important to do especially like just thinking about what you are as a person, check your identity, check your privilege and stuff like that, because you saying this could make this person from a different background want to shut down and like that kind of ruins the space and stuff like that.

Jessica von Zastrow: Yeah, having these discussions about what creating a space for dialogue looks like in a space that everyone can participate in that dialogue is an important step in figuring out how to have these conversations more broadly. And so as difficult as dialogue across difference is, what is something that gives you hope and keeps you interested in engaging or creating dialogue across difference in the future?

Joe Delaney: I am hopeful it will get better. Miami has a lot of different diversity programs looking into to improve all the time. It's not perfect now nor will be, but they're actively trying to do so. And there's a lot of conversations people are trying to have, a lot of the student body, presidential campaigns talked about having programs for students to come together and just talk and understand other people's point of views with respect to identities. A lot of times just wanting change and that kind of leads to bigger change.

Jasmine Floyd: Despite the fact that I said 'No I wouldn't be comfortable participating,' I am always willing to listen. I may not talk but I will listen. I know there are other people like that who are ready to have these conversations and because there is more work being done for people to have the space to have a voice and to speak out and no longer be afraid to like, talk about their experiences and vice versa that does give me hope. I feel like even this podcast is part of what gives me hope and stuff like that, just to have the space to be able to do this.

Kimberly Moore: I really appreciate hearing from both of you and your perspectives. And it's clear that you've had different positive and not so positive experiences, you know, engaging in dialogue across difference. I think it is so critical for students to step in with awareness, right? Awareness of themselves, awareness of others. And then pick and choose as appropriate to your comfort level.

And what I'm hearing from the two of you is that a structured environment is nice but even a structured environment such as a classroom isn't a place you can always trust. And it's really about assessing the situation and the people you're there with. And sometimes it's best to listen and sometimes it's best to speak. And to do that exchange respectfully and with awareness is critical. We need to keep having these conversations to figure out how to encourage our students to engage across difference but do it where we're not disproportionately impacting those with under represented or marginalized identities.

Jessica von Zastrow: Thank you both for showing up to this conversation and engaging in this dialogue about dialogue. We really appreciated having you on this episode.

Joe Delaney: Thank you guys.

Jasmine Floyd: Thank you.

Jessica von Zastrow: Thank you to all of our guests for taking the time to be a part of this conversation. So, before we go, let's recap some of the key takeaways that our expert Dr. Denise Teliafario Baszile talked about.

Takeaway number one: focus on problem solving first and then use these spaces to reveal more about yourself and to talk through your differences.

Takeaway number two: we often think about feelings as getting in the way of right thinking but Dr. Denise says to embrace the feelings because feelings are part of the way you think. If you aren't making space for feelings, then those repressed feelings tend to spill over in problematic ways.

Takeaway number three: it's okay to have a home base that feels comfortable but challenge yourself to be a border crosser and experience spaces that are different than your own identity. Thanks for listening.