Category Archives: Culture Chats

Culture Chats: Yale + Mizzou + Olin (November)

Topic of Conversation:

8:30 – 9:30: Unpacking Yale and Mizzou. We’ll discuss the events transpiring at Yale and at the University of Missouri, and our reactions.  Specifics will vary depending on the crowd, but I imagine touching on some or all of the following questions:  What happened?  What’s the history?  What are peoples’ (both personal and general) reactions?

9:30 – 10:30: Race at Olin in light of Yale + Mizzou.  We’ll be focusing on the roles we as individual students play – especially through the lenses of race* – and how that shapes the Olin community.  This is a topic that I’m still working out my thoughts on, and I hope this will provide a space where we all can do so.

* It feels as if I’ve said a dirty word.  These are not supposed to be easy, comfortable conversations to have – but important ones rarely are.  I hope you’ll come to listen and/or share.

Motivation:

In the week or two preceding November’s Cultural Conversations, my Facebook feed exploded with activity first from friends studying at Yale, then from my undergraduate peers changing their statuses in solidarity with the black University of Missouri students who were receiving death threats via YikYak.

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The same kind of activism, let alone discussion or even acknowledgement, was absent at Olin.  Despite the radio silence, however, the racially charged events were certainly on some Oliners’ minds.

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An email that I received from a peer.  The articles she references were posted on Facebook by fellow Olin students.

I couldn’t predict what directions the discussion would take, but I hoped to create a space that would recognize these events, and let participants unpack their reactions as they came.

Conversation flow:

For the first part, Unpacking Yale and Mizzou, I printed and distributed these articles:

Erika Christakis’ email to Yale Silliman College residents

What’s Really Going on at Yale

The New Intolerance of Student Activism (this was one of the articles posted on Facebook; referenced earlier)

Race and the Free-Speech Diversion

Wellesley Response to #ConcernedStudent1950 and Call of Action

I summarized the articles as attendees read through them.

Points discussed:

The positives and negatives of Christakis’ email.

What is cultural appropriation?  What makes a culturally appropriative costumes?

Was Christakis’ email merited?  What is the role of an associate master?  Or a master?

The journalist being pushed out.  What of free speech, then?

Wellesley!

For the second part, how race stands at Olin,

Notes and feedback:

Attendance:  Though the official time block was set to be 8:30 – 10:30, the majority of the attendees stayed long past.  When I left at midnight, there were still ~15 students deep in discussion.  There were around 30-35 unique faces total, with juniors and first-years mostly represented.  There were ~5 drop-ins – folks who were wandering past, found the conversation riveting, and decided to stay.

Topic reception:  I think the open-ended nature of the second portion allowed for more exploration, which meant that more people stayed.  I think

Other notes:

Frequency (once a month) is good.  Once a month allows for enough

Facilitation still a weak point.  This was particularly exacerbated by the fact that this was a more open-ended discussion.  There were no points that I particularly wanted to bring up, especially since I would be a biased facilitator.

Culture Chats 101

I am kicking off my junior year by launching Cultural Conversations.  The goal: increase awareness and organic discussion around ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity of Olin, and at Olin.  Through monthly fireside discussions on intentionally provocative topics, I aim to engage the student body.

Olin’s student body is rather racially homogenous.  This means that diversity must conform, through silencing or erasure, to fit the norms of the majority.  Additionally, engineering is decidedly apolitical.  The belief in technology and the laws of science and math which constitute The Truth foster an environment that naturally quells controversial, non-STEM-related conversation.

I refuse to accept these “truths.”  For engineering students to turn away from societal awareness means a stunted growth, both personally and as technological developers.  I hope that Cultural Conversations can be a vehicle this change and growth.

I’ll be posting each month’s discussion individually, and linking from this post.  Each month’s recap will include:

  • Topic of conversation and motivation
  • Conversation flow and insights
  • Commentary on what worked, what didn’t, and suggestions for the future

Monthly Discussions

October 2015
November 2015

Origin Story

Cultural Conversations was inspired by SASE (the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers).  The Olin SASE chapter was founded at the start of my sophomore year, by fellow sophomores.  The organization made me realize the importance of recognizing and celebrating difference – in this case, being Asian in a white-dominated field.  Olin SASE did not fill this void.  The first meeting was filled with discussion of fundraisers, the national conference, how to gain a presence on campus, but nothing specifically pointing at being an Asian scientist or engineer.  Hence, Cultural Conversations – penned and fleshed out with a buddy on a train ride from Providence – was sparked.