Students, staff and faculty attended the first Carolina Conversations meeting of the school year on Monday night to discuss inclusion in the classroom.
Chancellor Carol Folt said she organized the Carolina Conversations forum on inclusion to give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to voice their opinions, ask questions and brainstorm methods for improvement. Biology professor Kelly Hogan and psychology professor Viji Sathy facilitated the conversation by organizing small group discussions and allowing students to use note cards for offering suggestions and feedback.
Folt began the meeting by reminding the attendees of the goal of Carolina Conversations.
“When we started this idea about Carolina Conversations, it was really launched by the idea that there were important issues taking place in the world and in our communities and we didn’t have a place where people could get together and talk about them,” she said. “And so in a way we thought of this as our experimental forum.”
She said the forum setting allowed students, staff and faculty to further the conversations about how to make the University a welcoming place that values inclusion and diversity.
“This is another place we can use, another place we can come together and have conversations,” she said. “We can try to find out what people want to learn about, what they want to talk about. So we’re starting today on the topic of inclusive classrooms.”
Hogan and Sathy facilitated the forum.
Sathy said the forum served as a model for how an inclusive classroom should look — small group discussion, anonymous note cards and the establishment of a working agreement for rules of conversation allowed students to feel comfortable.
“Our role as facilitators would be to provide structured activities and model an inclusive classroom environment,” she said. “We also want to ensure that the rules are followed.”
Students, staff and faculty attending the meeting had the opportunity to examine the rules of the forum and offer their own.
Sathy said the specific goals for participants were to learn what it feels like to be in an inclusive classroom, to be heard, to listen and to brainstorm ways to bring inclusion into the classroom.
Aliyah Cruz, a junior chemistry major, said the meeting was informative and helpful for students and faculty.
“I thought the meeting went really well,” she said. “I think the best way for us to move forward for an inclusive environment is for faculty to listen to students and students to listen to faculty.”
She said the forums will hopefully bring about change, but it might take time.
“This is something hard to implement, for professors to find their footing with it,” she said. “But I think definitely if professors are more mindful and students are just more aware of what they need and they voice that, then this is something that can be changed sooner.”
Cruz said she plans to attend the next meeting and would love to see a forum focusing on sexual assault on campus.
Why was this meeting important?
Hogan and Sathy said they wanted to provide a comfortable environment for students to make their voices heard. Without the pressure of a classroom setting, students were able to describe their experiences in the classroom and offer suggestions for improvement. Faculty and staff were then able to voice concerns, answer questions and ask students how an inclusive classroom should look.
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