Mar 15th, 2017, 09:18 PM

Reflective Spaces, Safe Places

By Zipporah Alcaraz
Image Credit: Zipporah Alcaraz
“This day was really about listening. It’s not about debating and persuading. It’s about discussing and listening. Listening to each other and to ourselves.”

On Wednesday, March 22, AUP's Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) hosted workshops about the changing nature of the world today. The events were designed to stimulate reflection and discussion about the changing political, social, and cultural global paradigms. Students and faculty came together to consider fundamental issues related to our place as citizens in the world today: human rights, education, freedom of speech, social justice, democracy, and civic engagement.

“The world is changing in what appears to be quite dramatic ways at the moment. We were responding to student and faculty desires that we find a way to consider those ways within the heart of the university, the event arose out of that desire.” - Russell Williams, AUP professor and Co-organizer

Image Credit: Zipporah Alcaraz

Reflective Spaces, Safe Places came about through the idea that “nobody talks about what bothers them.” Michelle Lynch, AUP student and student coordinator of the event, explained that people don’t voice their problems. She realized that we don’t have discussions about the issues that bother us, and that if she feels this way, others must too. 'Others' meaning not just the students, but the rest of the AUP community as well. Brenda Torney, Coordinator of Administrative Grants and Loans (or the person who basically does all the behind-the-scenes work at AUP), observed, “I like the fact it was born out of a student having a question about whether what he was doing in class was worth it. He was asking a basic question: why am I here? And what he said resonated with faculty and students.”

Image Credit: Zipporah Alcaraz

“A "reflective space" is where reflection can and will hopefully happen. A "safe place" is where this reflection can happen without fear, where participants feel free to express their views and that others will listen to them putting judgments aside.”  - Rebekah Rast, Director of the TLC and AUP Professor

Throughout the day, students and faculty came in and out to participate in the different workshops that they felt resonated with them. From a French political debate to a creative writing seminar to a democratic manifesto for the classroom, the Reflective Spaces, Safe Places event had something for just about everyone. A particularly moving moment was the poetry reading about identity and the LGBTQ community, where people from within the AUP community were invited to read a poem of their choice. As one of the first events advocating the LGBTQ community at AUP, it was amazing to see faculty members like Geoffrey Gilbert and Elizabeth Kinne, and students like Danica Cortez, participate and read their favorite works because it created a space for acceptance and creativity to exist side-by-side. There were laughs, there were snaps, and there were entertaining stories.

Image Credit: Zipporah Alcaraz

The Global Citizenship section was one of the afternoon's highlights. In one presentation, three students, Celine, Fiona and Sonia, introduced their "Fresh Air Reverse" initiative. Reversing the notion that children from the city should be taken to the countryside for the virtues and health benefits of fresh air, this presentation proposed the opposite: children of rural origin should have the chance to experience the globalized city. Kids could benefit from witnessing at firsthand the multicultural melting pot that is the global metropolis. Their program proposed finding sponsorship to organize day trips and home stays for country kids to visit the city.

Image Credit: Zipporah Alcaraz

Overall, Reflective Spaces, Safe Places was an event that can be summed up in the words of co-organizer Russell Williams, an AUP English and Comparative Literature professor. He said, “I was pleased that so many staff, faculty and students got involved with the day. I’d like to think that we contributed to stimulating some critical thinking or helped some people to think through some of the issues talked about in the global media. I’d like to think we could make this an ongoing style activity - there’s lots to talk about. For the moment I’m happy that we’ve got things moving and people reflecting.” 

Additional reporting by Sara Hafi