Provost's Office Holds Amherst Reflects
Issue   |   Wed, 02/25/2015 - 00:54
Shirley Duquene '17, Staff Photographer
Students, faculty, and staff gathered for small-group discussions as part of the ongoing Amherst Reflects program, a continuation of the conversations begun at the Day of Dialogue.

This week Provost Peter Uvin invited students, faculty and staff to participate in a series of conversation called Amherst Reflects, part of a follow-up and response to the Day of Dialogue held earlier this semester.

The purpose of Amherst Reflects “is to continue the conversations in a way that is similar to the small group dialogues at the Day of Dialogue,” Uvin said. “At its best, such meetings where people talk about big, open-ended, major life questions allow us to humanize each other, see how different experiences have shaped us, [and] maybe desire to connect again afterwards.”

Similar to the discussion series Ask Big Questions that was introduced last academic year, Amherst Reflects was launched in the fall of 2014 to give the community opportunities to discuss pressing issues on campus. This semester, some of the discussions will be based on topics from the Day of Dialogue. The first round, which started on Monday, Feb. 23, focused on a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The meetings are each guided by two Amherst Reflects facilitators, who can be students, faculty or staff. During the first sessions, attendees began by discussing King’s quote and the lecture from which the quote was taken. Although the facilitators asked some pre-planned questions, the topics of the session were not fixed and were steered by the contributions of participants.

Additionally, the sessions are confidential, as Amherst Reflects aims to allow the community to hold genuine and meaningful conversations.

“The primary goal was to learn from each other about race and racism,” Uvin said. “The secondary goal was to create a climate of community and confidence that allows such conversations to continue to take place in the future.”

According to Uvin, the factors which hinder candid discussions include “misunderstandings, generalizations, fears of saying the wrong thing, fear of questioning ourselves and fear of getting hurt.”

“But we all came to this place to learn,” Uvin said. “Every single one of us benefits from traveling to other people’s places; there is no need to arrive at the same place, but we should explore beyond our comfort zone. The Day of Dialogue — and the follow-up activities I just outlined — was designed to facilitate this exploration.”

Uvin said, however, that events such as the Day of Dialogue and Amherst Reflects cannot provide a quick solution to complex issues.

“Did we solve everything? Of course not,” Uvin said. “But … I think everybody on campus is pleased when we manage to bring students, faculty and staff together for meaningful exchanges; there is a real demand for that.”

Ayoung Kim ‘17, one of the participants at the first session, said that Amherst Reflects, although portrayed as a successor to Ask Big Questions, has significantly changed from previous iterations. Kim was a facilitator for last semester’s Amherst Reflects and felt that this semester’s revamped version of the series was a huge improvement.

Because last semester’s Amherst Reflects was held at Valentine Dining Hall, “it wasn’t a space conducive for dialogue,” Kim said. “It wasn’t well advertised, and there was very limited participation. Compared to last semester, I think this session went well. [The session] was closer to a respectful conversation than a dialogue today … but I’m satisfied with the way things are going so far.”

Amherst Reflects sessions for this initial round will continue until Feb. 27.