MLK Day address starts an open dialogue on campus


Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Director Joshua Barr opened Simpson College’s dialogue series by addressing the need to have open conversations about controversial issues with others. Photo by Coby Berg/The Simpsonian

by Taylor Williams, Social Media Editor

Simpson celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Hubbell Hall with an open dialogue on how to have difficult discussions, in hopes of healing a wounded community.

Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Director Joshua Barr addressed a full room of students and faculty on the importance of open dialogue.

“All social change begins first with a conversation,” Barr said.

Barr spoke passionately about where people go wrong when having difficult discussions and how “everyone wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen.”

Barr said there are three steps to having an effective conversation. First, hear what the other person had to say. Secondly, meditate and process what they had to say and lastly form an appropriate response.

When people follow these three steps they find “more in common than their differences,” he said.

“Love and understanding come from listening and deliberate dialogues,” Barr said.

Barr was excited to speak to the Simpson community because he is proud of what this means for the future of the community.

“Today, when I’m done, y’all are just getting started,” Barr said.

Barr said that these difficult conversations were imperative to the growth of the Simpson community because “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

After Barr finished his address the room was left to start off the first of many difficult conversations, starting with the question “What should be the parameters and expectations surrounding freedom of expression on a college campus?”

To add a different element to the discussion, as people entered Hubbell before the event they were handed a number assigned to a table in the room.

Eighteen students and faculty members who were trained to lead these conversations, sat and facilitated at tables of eight or nine members of the Simpson community.

The facilitators had been preparing for Monday’s discussion since November and had to attend several training sessions before the event.

Photo by Coby Berg | Freshmen Noah Trujillo and Paula Carlson participate in the dialogue at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event.

Senior computer science major, Elise Tauer was one of  the 11 students leading Monday’s discussion and was excited for what this dialogue can do for the Simpson community.

“This campus does not have the best track record for conversations, particularly surrounding difficult conversations,” Tauer said. “I hope today will help start a better conversation and set a format for future discussions and conflict.”

Tauer was initially worried, like many other difficult discussions that have taken place at Simpson, it would just be preaching to the choir.

“This is an extremely important conversation that students need to be a part of,” Tauer said. “Exposure is so important.”

The questions asked during discussion time revolved around the initial question regarding expectations surrounding freedom of speech on college campuses. Participants who engaged in the open conversation offered up their personal experience and for some, it was the first time they felt comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of judgment.

Sophomore forensic science and criminal justice major, Angela Lopez described enjoying hearing opposing opinions and beginning to understand how people’s views originate from their life experiences.

“There are a majority of liberal students on campus. Conservative students feel like they can’t speak sometimes, but it was nice to see them come out of their shell and have a discussion with us,” Lopez said. “No one was yelling, which was good because a lot of times it ends up in yelling.”

Lopez was not the only one who thought there was a positive outcome.

Vice President of Student Development Heidi Levine said she was overwhelmed by the turnout which, according to the Assistant Dean for Multicultural and International Affairs Walter Lain, was one of the better ones he’s seen in 16 years.

Simpson plans to continue to have difficult dialogues and is open to people interested in being a facilitator or offering discussion topics and feedback. Students and faculty looking to get involved should email [email protected].