By PHONG LY
This past semester has witnessed the tension between members of Drake University and the Drake community as a result of the hate notes that were written on campus, along with the robberies that happened around Drake Neighborhood. Different people took different stands on the issue, which generated a lot of heated debates across campus. As an attempt to help Drake students communicate across differences, Drake Student Inclusion, Involvement and Leadership rolled out a program called “Caffeine Conversations” to encourage students to talk to someone with whom they might disagree politically or socially.
Tony Tyler, the director of Student Engagement, Equity & Inclusion, said the CNN Town Hall with Kamala Harris last Monday was the perfect opportunity, since Drake students were so engaged with the event.
“We thought if we could center it around an event it would be an easier discussion than a ‘so what do we disagree about,’” Tyler said.
The initiative was given some structure, but Tyler said that at the same time it is not their intention to police those discussions. Students can discuss anything they have on their mind.
With the decreasing discussion surrounding the #paintitblack movement, some people asked whether this program came a little too late. Tyler said he attempts to focus on the impact he can make now and moving forward.
“Rather, what I say is what’s the good that we can do right now,” Tyler said. “This is one way to get students to discuss across differences around political, racial issues and social issues going on in our times.”
Tyler said people might not feel comfortable talking about controversial issues if we address them too directly.
“If we can build skill sets in our student population to say that ‘yeah, I do disagree with you on this, let’s talk about it,’ then it becomes more natural and that’s what we are trying to get at,” Tyler said.
Tyler decided not to go too big with this round of the initiative, since this was their first session. Tyler said if feedback is positive from this first round of “Caffeine Conversations” they would probably do another round of discussion for the State of the Union as well.
“As things happen in our world and on our campus that we will look for other opportunities for social whatever events that they want,” Tyler said.
Tyler said he understands that it is easy for some people to take the approach of ‘let sleeping dogs lie.’ However, “I think that [approach] is exactly the reason we got to where we are,” Tyler said.
Growing up, he was told at the dinner table to never bring up politics or religion. According to Tyler, while doing so could avoid unnecessary conflict, it can fail in building the skill sets needed to have difficult conversations about issues that are rooted and centered in life.
“I genuinely care about the people around me and I care about them so much that I want to address our differences and figure out how we get along well with each other,” Tyler said. “I think we can see the effect it has on campus and the nation when we don’t want to talk about it, we get angry about it and then we just want to fight.”
A number of students participated in the first round of the program, sophomore Nathan Trees, also president of Drake Political Action Committee (DPAC), used this opportunity to address difference in political views to some of his friends.
“A majority of my friends at Drake have opposing political views so I tend to talk to them about current issues frequently,” Trees said.
Trees said he believes the program is needed not only at Drake but also on any other college campus.
“I don’t believe that any incident caused this program to be created,” Trees said. “We have continued to push for more programming at Drake that centered around positive discourse.”
Trees advised people to engage in these talks across differences.
“I believe that it is our civic duty to strive for safe spaces where anyone is comfortable to express their views, and participating in this event is a great way to get started,” Trees said.
Photo courtesy of Kim Bates