“Voices United”: Join the BC Community for a Week of Open Conversation on Campus

Alma Chow // The Watchdog

In today’s political climate and overall tense environment, it can be stressful to discuss difficult or complex topics. Even more so, it can be difficult when there is not a safe, supportive environment to practice your conversational skills in. 

Bellevue College’s Interim President, Gary Locke, set aside funds to promote healthy conversations as a part of his civic vision for BC. For the week May 22-26, Locke and RISE Learning Institute created “Voices United: A Week of Campus-Wide and Civic Conversation”, which works to help BC community members be more comfortable having healthy conversations, especially with those who have opposing viewpoints. An instructor, Mandie Mauldin, and a student, Madison Curry, who is also president of BridgeBC club, were tasked with facilitating civic dialogues across campus under the RISE Learning Institute’s Community-Engaged & Civic Education program at Bellevue College. 

Throughout the week, there will be a variety of speakers from the community and BC faculty. The format for each event will vary depending on the speaker. For example, the Washington State Secretary of State, Steve Hobbs, will give a traditional presentation, as well as discussing with the participants directly. On the other hand, Miriam Oommen, who is a plaintiff in the federal climate change lawsuit Juliana vs. US, and Nico Quijano, the Homelessness Outreach Program Manager for the City of Bellevue, will be hosting a workshop. Mandie Mauldin, one of the planners and the President’s Faculty Civic Fellow, describes that “students will see that BC is committed to creating a safe, supportive environment where people can share their thoughts and ideas and be treated respectfully. Students will also see faculty, staff, and administrators invested in learning strategies to improve communication on campus and to help create classrooms that are safe and supportive spaces for open and honest conversations.” 

These events will begin at 10:30 a.m. every day except Tuesday and vary on whether they are for students, faculty, staff and admin, or the overall community. Most of the events will be available both in-person and over Zoom. For a comprehensive list of events and the location for each event, check out the calendar. There is also a quick survey that BC members can take to share where they stand on having difficult dialogues. 

Participants can leave knowing more about identifying and addressing misinformation, understand how to overcome voting challenges, feel empowered about having their voice heard at BC and in the community, and learn overall strategies for communication. Even more, students will be able to not only engage in the discussion and listen, but also use the resources provided by the speakers. For example, the CEO of BridgeUSA will be at BC on Thursday and will have great resources, especially in regards to creating clubs about increasing healthy dialogues on campus. The Washington State Voting Outreach Team will be present on Wednesday in the N building, and they can help provide resources for voting assistance and understanding. Additionally, tools to use on a daily basis include “I Statements” and “Active Listening,” as well as BC’s Social Justice Center in B207, which hosts Restorative Practices. 
From the Associate Director of the RISE Learning Institute, Sapan Parekh: “My suggestion when trying to have conversations about controversial topics is to try to find the shared values behind all the over-politicization. Strip away the misinformation and political spin, and dig down to the root cause of beliefs. That’s where shared values, or at least empathy, can be found.”