Approximately 25 students settled into a circle in the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) to participate in a discussion of the negative effects of social media, especially for individuals in marginalized communities.
The event, Spilling the Tea on Diversity, took place on Sep. 20 at 4:30 p.m. and is the first of a series of monthly events that will discuss difficult topics. “The hope is to create [a] safe space for students to talk about hot topics or controversial issues whether it’s on campus, in our state, or our country,” said Director of the OEI Jenny Guerra.
The event was facilitated by Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities and Lead Title IX Investigator Siobhan Skerritt. The event’s purpose was to begin an open conversation about freedom of speech versus harassment, and how students can be engaged on social media in a positive way.
Skerritt began the conversation by asking students to share their experiences so they could best support one another. “Social media is a touchy topic,” Skerritt said. “This generation of people – we need to have a conversation. We see things on social media left and right, and we like and dislike all of those things, but a lot of people or a lot of groups of people do things on social media intentionally to be oppressive to people from marginalized groups, and I think that what they feel is that, ‘oh, it’s on social media.’”
Students asked questions about how to best support those dealing with online harassment or oppression, and Skerritt answered that the best way to support others is by asking first what they need. She highlighted that everyone faces their own individual struggle. Other topics covered were cultural appropriation, how to handle racist comments, and posts on social media and transgender students’ experience at Whittier College. The conversation freely moved from topic to topic and many students shared their own personal experiences.
“I think it was a really good experience because more of these conversations need to happen, especially with the changing student population. Every so often we need to sit down and talk about the big issues and what matters to us,” said fourth-year Esther Hills. “I learned things about what’s going on that I wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. I’m glad that this conversation is calling stuff out so that we’re more aware of it.”
These events will take place monthly, and the next one is on Oct. 18. “We are planning to have a cultural appropriation [event] for October. We also have to talk about our trans community in partnership with TOBGLAD (Transgender, Other Identified, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Allies for Diversity) for trans awareness week,” said Guerra. “A lot of it will be based on our marginalized student population.”
Guerra was pleased with how the conversation went and with the student turnout of students. “These types of dialogues are going to be very organic and based off where the students are at [mentally and socially], so I think this was a great opportunity for people to talk about how they were feeling.”