Dialogue dismantles stereotypes

By Avery Ellfeldt

Staff Writer

On Friday, April 26, students, fac- ulty and staff gathered in the Trollhaugen dining room for the De-Stereotype Me event led and organized by Jabri Whirl ’18 and Don Williams ’18. The event incorporated several methods used in Sustained Dialogue, a forum for discussion of social issues. Whirl and Williams are both Sustained Dialogue moderators and wanted to demonstrate with DeStereotype Me that St. Olaf is more of a community than most people think.

“As Sustained Dialogue moderators,

we’ve learned a whole way to approach having people talk about these topics. It’s hard to talk about identity because you don’t want to devalue somebody else’s aspect of identity. Using Sustained Dialogue methods, we’ve cre- ated this event to get more people involved [in these discussions],” Whirl said.

As members of the St. Olaf community arrived to the event, they picked up a sheet of paper that randomly sorted them into dialogue groups. After a short introduction, group members were asked to introduce themselves and play a game called “Who Are You” with a partner. The purpose of the activity was to have participants get to know one another before taking part in dialogue that would likely include difficult topics. The activity partially paralleled the idea behind the event as a whole. Whirl and Williams think the St. Olaf community needs to work on building relationships on campus through dialogue so that when controversy arises there is a foundation on which to move forward.

“There is definitely a way to make connections and build more long last- ing, friendly relationships. Then, when these topics of race or policy [become relevant], we’ll be more prone to have productive dialogue,” Williams said.

After introductions, participants were asked to define what a stereotype is to them, what stereotypes they have faced, how they have overcome them and what advice they have for others. Through this dialogue, group members both were introduced to new stereotypes and were able to realize that many people, despite their differences, are often stereotyped similarly.

Throughout the first 40-minute session of conversation, participants delved into the complexities of stereotypes and their effects on individuals and communities.

“We use [the word] ‘dialogue’ instead of ‘discussion’ because the heart of having a dialogue is using your experiences and active listening to understand both or all sides of the story to find common ground to make change for all parties and identities,” Williams said.

Williams and Whirl also wanted a visual component to reinforce the event. In the week prior, they interviewed and filmed several students talking about stereotypes around campus. The students defined stereotypes and addressed the varying effects they think stereotypes can have when they go undiscussed.

One of the main purposes and results of “De-Stereotype Me” was to acknowledge that stereotypes do exist and are placed on everybody. Whirl and Williams want to emphasize that stereotypes do not have nearly as much power if those affected by them choose to acknowledge and see past them rather than ignore them.

“The purpose of the documentary is to really show that regardless of background, and regardless of identity we can have the same stereotypes put on us. We really want to open the eyes of [St. Olaf] to show that we are more of a community than we think we are,” Williams said.

The final portion of the event was a pledge that all participants and St. Olaf community members have the option to sign. The pledge was written not just to demonstrate a desire for more dialogue and cross-campus relationships on the part of the signatories, but to be the first piece of action and change. Williams and Whirl welcome everybody connected to St. Olaf to sign the pledge and hope that as a community it could be the first step toward more productive dialogue about stereotypes. To access the pledge, visit identity.stolaf.edu.