By Camryn Ellis, DCI Fellow
I applied to become a fellow for the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative at Davidson College because it seemed to be an interesting and productive program. It being a space that encourages people to engage in deliberation on social issues that are hard to talk about and are usually only met with controversy was what caught my attention. Usually when I discuss political and social issues, I find that people are not really interested in changing their perspective. It’s always them ranting about all the reasons their beliefs are right and when I question them, the critique is taken personally and then it’s just a whole mess.
I’m not going to lie though, I, too, sometimes don’t always take critiques of my beliefs too well, either. I have recently realized that I sometimes think I’m more open to different ways of thinking than I actually am. I was interested in becoming a DCI Fellow because I want to challenge myself to learn how to listen better to people who feel differently than I do and to have and facilitate conversations that may be filled with controversy.
The DCI displayed itself to be a place where I could engage with people who have different perspectives and come together to productively and respectively deliberate on important social issues. I was excited to see the diversity of lived experiences I hoped to encounter. But after the first day, I knew that racial diversity would not really be in the cards for us this semester given that no one else in the cohort of fellows (except me) was Black.
This was disappointing and honestly not what I was expecting. Then when we received the topics that the cohort had suggested and ranked highest and we would be deliberating on, I was even more confused and unsure about how I felt about this program. While I think they are important social issues to discuss, the topics of Davidson’s history of enslavement and police brutality felt very overwhelming to me, especially since I would be the only Black person who would be participating in these cohort discussions.
I decided to talk to my DCI co-facilitator about this issue and she was so understanding and validating of my experience. She always reached out to see how I was feeling throughout the semester, especially when the week’s social issue was heavily influenced by racism. We were able to work out a solution where I would not serve as a facilitator during those weeks but would play a more active role in other weeks. As our DCI facilitator training emphasized, we may not always be able or ready to facilitate conversations on any and every topic, and that is okay.
In any case, as the weeks went by, the relationship between my co-facilitator and I made me feel that I was not so alone. And from our time together as DCI co-facilitators, we not only worked together, but also became friends.
From my experience, I have learned how important it is to truly listen to others, regardless of whether or not you share similar social identities and perspectives. Whether one is listening to a friend in need or is having a discussion about the current social and political realities of America, good communication is key. I have learned that the first step to good communication isn’t to make sure you are the loudest one in the room or that you use a great deal of jargon, but to instead listen to others, validate their lived experiences, and try to emphasize the ways that you can relate to one another, rather than highlighting all the ways that you don’t.