Discourse in a retrospective lense

Kimia Kowsari, Columnist

Hamline students, faculty and staff came together on Feb. 15 to envision a better Hamline with a community conversation. 

The community conversation was held in the Klas Ballroom from 4-6 p.m., although people could leave at 5:30 p.m. if they wanted to eat their dinner away from the group due to COVID-19. There were about 12 tables with about eight people per table. Each table had a mixture of university members: faculty, staff and students. 

The event started off with an acknowledgement of recent events and introductions where everyone at a table had to go around and introduce themselves. These icebreakers included name, pronouns, position at Hamline, favorite Hamline memory and why people chose Hamline. 

While I typically don’t enjoy ice breakers, I did enjoy the positive start to the event. Obviously Hamline has its issues and problems, but it is nice to remember why we are all here because that can help us all envision a future. 

After the introductions, each table got a look at the first two discussion questions. The first question was: “How can students and the faculty work together to foster a positive and collaborative learning environment? What does this look like in practice?” 

The second question was: “How can Hamline University as an institution address implicit biases that may impact (students-to-student, student-to-faculty, faculty-to-faculty, staff-to-staff, etc) relationships on campus? What does creating a safe space in the classroom actually look/feel/sound like?” 

These first two questions focused on how Hamline is lacking in creating meaningful connections between students and staff. While not completely focusing on these negatives, the questions were also aiming for each table to come up with meaningful solutions. 

Even before the incident during the fall semester, there was obviously a disconnect between some students and faculty. There are always good professors and classes, but what happened in that classroom should not happen again. This community conversation is one of the first steps to creating a better Hamline.  

After the tables had time to talk about these two questions, the outside moderator took some time to hear some responses. One of the most impactful yet hardest questions that the leaders of the event asked participants was: “If Hamline was to cease to exist tomorrow (by some magical set of circumstances) and you were in charge of rebuilding it, what would the community look like? How would you want things to be structured?” 

Obviously, this is not an easy question to answer because no school is perfect and nothing can be perfect. At the same time, I believe that this question is a great way to get everyone involved. The decision making process should include all parts of Hamline. 

Overall, these questions were all thought-provoking and insightful. They were hard questions to answer especially with other faculty and staff members there, but we need to start somewhere.

The students who planned this event did an excellent job. The only problem I had with the community conversation was that many of the students, faculty and staff on campus who are a part of the problem were not there. They don’t understand the problem because they are a part of it. 

This is not an issue with the event itself or the students who planned it, but rather, another example of how Hamline needs to be holding the right people accountable. If the only people who believe that there needs to be change at Hamline come to these events, how will things actually get better? We need to put pressure on all students, faculty and staff to come. 

About 100 people came on Feb. 15 which is a good start, but there must be more. There are about 1,700 students at Hamline and they all need to be involved in making Hamline a better place. 

I believe that one of the next steps should be continuing these conversations on a larger-scale on campus. There needs to be a way to get all students, faculty and staff involved in these conversations at some point. 

When should the next steps be implemented? I believe that starting these conversations as soon as students come to campus as first-years or transfers will have the best outcomes. When students come in as first-years or transfers, they will be involved right away in what it means to be a Piper and how to make the school a better place. 

No matter who you are or what part of Hamline campus you’re involved in, you should strive to make this university a better place.