Antioch University Los Angeles hosted Co-Creating Communities Through Listening, Imagining, and Acting. The night started with a shared meal, followed by a roundtable dialogue. Almost forty people attended the event, which was facilitated by the Institute for Non-Violence in Los Angeles (INVLA).
“After the shooting at the temple in Pittsburgh last year, we started having informal conversations. We talked about the stress, strife, and sadness that a lot of folks felt about unresolved differences and anger reflected in violent acts in the US,” Jane Paul, teaching faculty and head of the Urban Studies Concentration in the Undergraduate Studies program as well as teaching (and founding) faculty in the Masters in Urban Sustainability program.
In conversation with other staff and faculty, Paul saw the need to create a safe discussion space for people who feel frustration and helplessness over today’s divided society. Previous experience with the INVLA led her to explore the Institute’s Days of Dialogue as a potential partner for AULA. This Days of Dialogue program, which fosters community roundtable dialogues, was perfect for Antioch’s long-standing social justice-driven mission. Paul partnered with Antioch’s Management Studies Department Chair, David Norgard, to begin laying the groundwork for Antioch’s Co-Creating Communities event.
“Jane originally approached me about the idea and acquainted me with the work of the Institute for Non-Violence in Los Angeles. I am deeply concerned about the increasing lack of civility and tolerance in our society. I firmly believe that the only way to address it is a genuine dialogue among persons of different backgrounds and perspectives,” Norgard said.
Co-Creating Communities sparked interest around the campus. The event found sponsorship from the Black Student Union, the Office of the Provost, the Alumni Council, the Undergraduate Studies Department, and the Management Studies Department. The event’s intention and process developed through the collaboration of Jane, David, and alumni Jamila Gaskins and Wendy Chen Epstein.
Participants in the May 29th evening varied in background and experience, but all shared a desire to build bridges in their deeply divided communities. Together they shared thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe and confidential space. Most importantly, facilitators encouraged attendees to listen to and respect each other.
“The energy throughout the evening was great. No one in the room knew everyone else attending but came with an attitude of openness to the meeting. People talked candidly yet respectfully with others who held different political views,” Norgard said.
When finalizing the groundwork for the evening’s dialogue, the planning team of Jane, David, Jamila, and Wendy were careful not to define terminologies such as community and violence. The discourse relied on what each participant brought to the table.
“The participants shared what those definitions meant for each of them. We learned that although we might understand things differently, it is possible to build a space to hear each other and honor those differences,” Paul noted.
The feedback from the night was also positive. The concepts of community and dialogue kept people connected throughout the evening. Moving forward, participants plan on continuing to pursue community activism. Some hope to create more safe spaces, while others look forward to continuing practicing structured dialogue.
Paul feels confident about the night. She’s optimistic that people walked away with new perspectives. Paul hopes that attendees have gained new tools to employ as they start to build up their communities.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Paul said. “It’s worth the effort, and in fact, necessary to co-exist with mutual well-being.”
“To disagree does not equate with becoming an opponent or enemy,” Norgard adds.
Due to the success of this spring’s Co-Creating Communities Through Listening, Imagining, and Acting, the Antioch community looks forward to the possibility of many more roundtable dialogues to come.