Along the glass walls of the Multicultural Center are over a dozen printed screenshots of posts from the social media app Yik Yak in which students comment on the recent sexual assaults.
The app allows students to write posts and respond to them anonymously, and there, students were voicing their honest opinions, anxieties and concerns without the fear of being seen as stupid or ignorant about the topic. These posts had all sorts of comments and up votes, showing a vibrant, passionate and varied conversation on this topic.
The two discussions hosted in the Center after the reported sexual assaults were attended by virtually no students other than Gatepost reporters.
Students clearly want to be talking about this topic, so why didn’t they show up?
In some ways, it might be more comfortable for students to discuss topics such as this in a more removed forum, like social media. It’s a free space where students can talk about these topics candidly, if perhaps not always in an informed way.
Alternatively, when in a small room in the library, surrounded by glass walls that allow anyone passing by to stare at those discussing the given topic, accompanied by just a few other students and a handful of administrators who are listening intently to what students are saying, it stands to reason that students may feel uncomfortable.
Kathy Martinez, director of the Multicultural Center, said the main reason some of these forums are poorly attended is that FSU is a campus that doesn’t have a strong “culture of conversation.” She said that many of the events hosted through the school are purely for entertainment and socialization. Students, she said, need to take responsibility for their own participation in these campus-wide conversations in order for them to be successful.
There are clearly conversations happening among students, online and in the cafeteria, but we should be examining what form they take as a guide to organizing bigger community discussions.
The organized dialogues could offer students more comfortable ways of discussing difficult topics, such as using anonymous texting in which students can ask questions or bring up concerns they might feel uncomfortable asking out loud. This would alleviate the pressure students might feel to say something profound or politically correct when they’re speaking in front of their peers and administrators who have a lot more experience talking about these topics.
Likewise, encouraging students to lead and create dialogues that are peer mediated, and perhaps supplemented by administrators, might allow for them to feel more comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge on a topic or fumbling with the right way to word what they want to say, since most other students there may be similarly confused.
In fact, Martinez has said that some of the most well-attended dialogues have been facilitated by students themselves on topics they are passionate about.
Part of the responsibility lies with students to be a part of these dialogues in a meaningful way.
Administrators, however, could recognize some of the reasons that students aren’t involving themselves in the conversation and come up with ways to make them feel more empowered and inspired to do so. For example, there could be more presentations or informative sessions offered in which students can hear about these difficult topics without being put in the position of feeling ignorant before they have a chance to learn.
Ultimately, the solution to this breakdown in active participation by students in important public dialogues needs to involve a joint effort of students directing their enthusiasm toward more community discussions and events, and administrators encouraging students to use their power effectively.