Humans are not perfect. We say things that offend others even if we don’t realize it. We have lived different lives and therefore have different memories, experiences and triggers and sometimes hurt each other through not respecting these differences. However, one the greatest things about human nature is the ability to learn from mistakes and unlearn negative behavior and microaggressions.
At the Public Relations Department sponsored Subtle Slights with Big Consequences dinner Wednesday night, the capacity for people to learn and grow in their exchanges with others was flexed and challenged through conversation and a pasta dinner with strangers from all walks of life.
Algonquin Dining Hall once more came to life as those in attendance of the Public Relations’ Capstone Campaign class’ final project, a rebranding of the I am an Ally Campaign, sat around eight tables cloaked in black with questions and ice breakers printed on cards scattered about each one.
This dinner had the theme of microaggressions and was the second event in the I am an Ally in Progress campaign.
Nicole White is a senior public relations major from Valley Cottage, New York. She was one of the PRE466 students to facilitate the event.
“We started off broad,” White said. “We asked ourselves what kind of impact we wanted to make and what we wanted people to leave with.”
Groups at each table were randomly seated, so everyone was more than likely sitting next to a stranger. The pool of guests ranged from community members to faculty and staff as well as students.
Kelly Theisen is an assistant professor of computational chemistry at Plattsburgh State.
“I’m hoping to hear mostly from students and to learn more about microaggressions to prevent that stuff from happening in the classroom,” Thiesen stated before the event began. “I’d also like to meet people and have fun conversations.”
The event started with ice-breakers. Questions such as “If you could be one ice cream flavor, which one would you be and why?” and “What is one thing you would like to cross off your bucket list?” were used to turn strangers into acquaintances. Teachers reminisced over their favorite concert memories. Students shared their dreams of traveling abroad. Interesting facts about everyone’s lives were shared. Ultimately, people learned they truly aren’t that different from one another.
Pasta, chicken, salad, cheese and crackers, lemonade, cookies, brownies, coffee and other treats were served to students buffet style and allowed for guests to bond over food.
“We wanted to have a dinner because talking over food makes it so much easier to talk to strangers,” White said.
As the dinner progressed, topics a little more serious than ice cream were discussed. PRE466 students have found through their research that 30% of students experience microaggressions in the classroom, which can be directed at people for their age, race, gender, socioeconomic status and more. The tables quickly became a brave space, because no safe spaces exist in this world, to freely discuss under the Vegas rule what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas what small but hurtful comments they have experienced.
Hosts sat at each table to help facilitate the open conversation. Morayo Okesola, a junior public relations major from Nigeria, was one of them.
“I was looking forward to this event because I’ve faced microaggressions a lot,” Okesola said. “Being from Nigeria, I’ve been here for not even five years, so I’ve experienced it a lot. I wanted a space to speak about my experience.”
After free expression and stories of microaggressions and how to address them were shared, the PRE466 students passed around blank dominoes on which attendees signed their name and pledged how they will continue to be an ally. Some wrote “I will not be defensive when I am wrong,” “I will keep an open mind,” and “I will keep learning.” The difference between an ally and an ally in progress is that being an ally is work that is never really done; it is always a work-in-progress. The dominoes will be set up and knocked down at Hawkins Pond on May 3 during the ally-in-progress celebration.
“I think it is important for people to be open to learning and unlearning,” Okesola said. “When you commit a microaggression and someone confronts you about it, be ready to unlearn that microaggression.”
Many in attendance learned valuable lessons and were inspired by the openness and connectivity in the room.
“It was very eye-opening,” White said.