My college hosts an annual conference called the Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference. This conference combines all my favorite things, diversity, leadership, and plastic name tags. Okay, I’m not that excited about the name tags, but I am excited about what this conference does. It brings people together from colleges around the region and creates a space for dialogue about diversity and social justice issues. I know what some of you are thinking; “That’s just an opportunity for minorities to vent their frustration about their supposed oppression.” To which I would reply, “It’s so much more than that.” The pillars of this year’s conference are Social Change, Oppression, Power and Privilege, and Organization Change. Yes, we talk about the minority experience in the US, after all, that’s what got many of us interested in this subject. However, we also talk about diversity of religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, geographic location, experience, and much more. We do critical self-reflection to better understand our identities and how they shape our lives and interactions with others. We talk about what brings about successful and sustainable social and organizational change. We discuss issues such as minority education, same sex marriage, and immigration.
One of the main concerns of this conference, and one of the reasons I love it so much, is because we talk about talking. Communicating, really communicating, about important things and not being ashamed of our unique perspectives and ideas. Our speaker tonight was a professor in the Communications school. His speech, which was very interactive, was about how to communicate effectively so that we can talk about these tough issues. It was about paying attention to the small details in order to become better listeners, about the tone and attitude with which you say something, and how that can inspire someone to action or turn someone away from your message. It was about humbling yourself and valuing everyone, no matter how insignificant they may seem in the grand scheme of things.
At the end of the speech, he had everyone write down a word or phrase that represents what they stand for, what inspires them to action, or what they strive for. I wrote, “Let all voices be heard.” I told you, I’m passionate about stories, especially those stories that are usually silenced or ignored, because I believe that everyone deserves to be heard. That’s how we as humans are vulnerable with each other, that’s how we make connections and recognize ourselves in others. Stories carry all our pain and joy. They are both a lament and a celebration. Stories make the world go around. (Go ahead, ask me which story I think is the most important.)
All those words were just day one.