Chats to spark talk about stereotypes

Courtesy Photo /
Chaunte Rodgers

Courtesy Photo / Chaunte Rodgers

Susie Skowronek

People can build bridges across gaps in religion, race, sexual orientation and class through storytelling.

The Fireside Chats facilitated by the Women’s Center offer an intimate and safe environment for women of the Grand Valley State University community to foster relationships despite diverse experiences.

The Women’s Commission, a faculty and staff organization that promotes equal opportunities on campus, will host the last two Fireside Chats of the semester from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday in Room 2201 and Dec. 8 in Room 1142 of the Kirkhof Center.

“The goal is to break down myths and stereotypes and to be honest about what we believe,” said Marlene Kowalski-Braun, director of the Women’s Center. “When we look at things that make us unique — we universally find shared experiences.”

The chat scheduled for Wednesday will highlight socio-economic issues. Kowalski-Braun, a member of the Women’s Commission, said people tend to judge the financial situation of others incorrectly because social class is an invisible attribute.

“We make assumptions about people on a college campus,” Kowalski-Braun said. “But (the Women’s Center) runs a student food bank, so we know those assumptions aren’t always true.”

For the Dec. 8 chat, a couple of faculty and staff members will share their experiences of international travel. Chaunte Rodgers, co-chair of the Women’s Commission, said speakers traditionally bring ethnic food to the final Fireside Chat of the semester. The presenters offer explanations about why they brought the food and the history it represents.

“Food provides an opportunity to share a piece of culture,” Rodgers said. “And what better way to learn about culture than by sharing food?”

Rodgers participated in a GVSU delegation to Beijing, China in March through a grant from the Padnos International Center. At the Fireside Chat, she will share photos from her trip and explain the cultural differences she notices between China and the U.S.

The Fireside Chats are based on a storytelling concept by Greg Tanaka, author of “The Intercultural Campus: Transcending Culture and Power in American Higher Education.” He spoke at a Professionals of Color lecture at GVSU on Oct. 20, 2005.

“Storytelling is the only way to demonstrate how interculturalism works,” he said in the Oct. 24, 2005 edition of the Lanthorn. “Everybody has a story, and every story counts.”

Members of the Women’s Commission began holding the Fireside Chats to learn more about each other. Although the women work with each other on a daily basis, they realized a staff member from the Women’s Center might not know the story of a woman from Human Relations. The informal lectures address race, sexuality, social class and other characteristics that comprise the individual.

“The chats are never just about being a woman,” Kowalski-Braun said. “They are about being all the things that make us a person.”

Through the discussion of such personal topics, Kowalski-Braun said the Women’s Commission hopes participants will “expose their growth edges.”

The commission poses topics with opposing viewpoints. Recent Fireside Chats have opened discussion on obstacles faced by the transgender community, bullying in response to the surge in LGBT suicides and the decision of some Muslim women to wear the hijab head covering. Discussion of such multifaceted issues allows participants to stretch their perspectives, Kowalski-Braun said.

“They are a way to actively demonstrate an investment in inclusion and equity,” she said.

The Women’s Center requests that those interested to send an RSVP prior to the event to [email protected].

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