The University of Indianapolis’ Office of Inclusion and Equity created an event, called Open Mic Dialogue, for students to openly talk about subjects that are considered to be sensitive and controversial.
Open Mic Dialogue events are set up in open spaces where students can gather together and have open discussions about a preplanned topic. At the events, an ambassador from OIE welcomes students and leads discussion by giving background for the night’s topic. Students are then encouraged to take over the discussion and provide their point of view and opinion on the subject. The ambassador will continually ask questions and engage in the discussion along with students.
According to graduate student of mental health counseling and graduate student intern for the OIE Lawrence Haynes, the goal of the events is for students to learn how to discuss sensitive topics in an open forum and to communicate with others who see things differently from their point of view.
“I think the overall goal is to foster civil discourse within our students and then in our faculty and staff,” Haynes said. “Creating a space where people can come together and not necessarily agree, but learn how to have conversations that are civil, that are non-hostile and hopefully that are productive along with whatever the topic may be.”
Haynes said that the Open Mic Dialogues began in the fall semester of 2017 and was an idea from Vice President and Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston. Haynes said that he thinks Huddleston believes that the mission of higher education is to not keep students away from uncomfortable topics of conversation and that it is providing an outlet for students to talk about difficult subjects.
When it comes to deciding topics, Haynes said that in the beginning, topics were more random and relax. However, most of the discussion pertained to political matter because of the presidential election.
“There was a lot of things politically that were going on that we [the OIE staff] felt having an outlet for students to address some of those things was good,” Haynes said.
In the 2018-2019 school year, Haynes said that thanks to student feedback, events would be centered around specific topics. For example, if there is a theme to a month, like February being Black History Month, the topic of discussion for that Open Mic would be centered around that subject.
“Of course, it’s an open mic so we are by no means required to stick to that topic and many times if it’s good conversation one topic will veer off into another topic…,” Haynes said.
Haynes said that he has recently asked students at the end of events what topics should be discussed in the future and whether they would like the setting to be an open forum or more of a classroom setup.
An Open Mic Dialogue was held on Jan. 17 over human trafficking. It focused on: what falls under the umbrella of human trafficking; how it is depicted in the news, movies and television; and some ways to bring awareness and bring a stop to it.
Junior communication major Kayla Prather said that going to events like these are helpful in making a change and students should become more involved with conversations and events like the Open Mics.
“I really liked the conversation because it was educational and also it gave people the chance to comment on how they think they should change this kind of situation happening…,” Prather said.
She also said that before this event she had never really had a conversation like this at UIndy outside of classes that focus on social problems and diverse society. She said that she would continue going to these events as they create different types of conversation.
“I feel things like this are important because it sparks conversation in the best way possible,” Prather said. “To get people talking is to get people acting on it and that’s what helps resolve it.”
Freshman communication major Ty Johnson also attended the Open Mic over human trafficking. He said that he found the event enlightening and was different than what he expected. He said that it was more open and was more about educating students on what human trafficking is and it was more than just trying to find a solution to stop it from happening.
“We need to be having more conversation about things that make people uncomfortable…,” Johnson said. “… [we can] be able to make changes to make it so those aren’t problems anymore or at least less of problems.”
When it comes to the overall goal for the Open Mic Dialogue, Haynes said that is has been to allow students the opportunity to discuss difficult topics and learn how to view other people’s opinions civilly as it is a skill that students will need throughout their lives.