Living in our questions: Expanding awareness and assuming complexity

Sam Chiang , Staff Writer

This year’s Unity Week theme, Living in Our Questions: Expanding Awareness and Assuming Complexity, is designed to increase students’ understanding of different perspectives and help suspend judgment of others, Co-Director of the Office for Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity (ICIE) Candice Powell-Caldwell said.

Although in previous years, the theme was determined by a committee and/or some students who attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), Co-Director of the ICIE John Gentile said that the ICIE took over the logistics and framing this year due to the earlier date. Unity Week was scheduled earlier in the year in order to jumpstart conversations about identity and build momentum to encourage discussions throughout the rest of the school year, he said.

Powell-Caldwell and Gentile brainstormed multiple ideas, but they knew from the start that the genesis of the theme would be based upon assuming complexity, Gentile said. The theme was an extension of previous discussions over what it means to be a part of a community and entering into conversation and dialogue with others, Powell-Caldwell said. They wanted the theme to inspire students and faculty to think about “the ways in which we come to all of these conversations with multiple identities and multiple lived experiences and how do we not take for granted that we don’t know all the time where people are coming from,” he said. Gentile said that he hopes the theme helps the community to “continue to stay curious, continue to offer grace, and be open to continuing to learn more and challenge ourselves to think more deeply.”

“Sometimes we come to a space or table without knowing what someone else has gone through,” Powell-Caldwell said. “Assuming complexity is really about this idea that you don’t really know unless you have a conversation or you spend some time getting to know someone, what their lived experience is, the impact of that lived experience, what kind of conversation preceded the one that you are having with them.”

It’s important to think critically about who and what should be questioned and who should not be questioned, he said. “By asking questions, you are seeking out some awareness and leaning into this idea that there is the possibility for complexity beyond what I initially see,” Gentile said. When asking questions, “we sit back and wait for answers from others to share their experiences and stories while we expand our awareness of ourselves, others, and our society,” Powell-Caldwell said.

Unity Week is an opportunity to take intentional moments to pause and reflect, which often happens in the form of workshops, Gentile said. However, the theme is only a “helpful guide but not meant to dictate content,” he said. “Some people take the theme and run with it, and some people know the theme but don’t need to make an immediate or distinct connection to it.”

Although many workshops may not have been intentionally focused on the theme, as Unity Week lends itself to provoking questions about our implicit assumptions, many ended up addressing the theme of complexity.

The Union led two workshops this week about the power of language, co-Leader of the Union Taussia Boadi (12) said. The discussion focused specifically on how words that were used to demoralize certain groups of people were then adopted by those communities and used as words of empowerment, While the club didn’t use the theme as a guide, the workshops addressed the complexity of these words and Boadi’s hope was that people ask further questions, she said.

The Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and the Feminist Students Association (FSA) also be hosted a workshop about the reclaiming of slurs and epithets, co-president of GSA Bernard von Simson (12) said. Co-president of FSA Sofia Del Gatto (12) said that the workshop “relates to the theme of self questioning because we are asking people to question the language they use and believe in.” The workshop will also inspire attendees to question how the language that they use contributes to hateful narratives, she said.

Sonia Shuster (11) and Evann Penn Brown’s (11) workshop ended up fitting with the theme although it didn’t particularly influence their idea originally, Shuster said. The workshop presented the New York Times’ 1619 project which investigates the origins of slavery in the US, as a means to discuss how slavery has influenced American society. Their workshop reflected the theme’s aim of expanding awareness as they sought to make the conversation accessible to anyone who wanted to participate, she said.