Discussions of racism, classism and mental health were hosted by Northwestern University Sustained Dialogue in Norris on Friday after a forecast of clouds and rain drove the eighth annual Dialogue at Deering inside this year. About a dozen students, faculty and staff gathered to eat lunch and voice their experiences as members of the Northwestern community.

Students discuss racism, classim and mental health. Photo by Brooke Fowler / North by Northwestern

Erika Barrios, a moderator in Sustained Dialogue and third-year Weinberg student studying English literature, helped lead the discussion on campus climate.

“Issues like classism or mental health are ongoing and not ceasing. So particularly this year, I think it’s very relevant and very important to host Dialogue at Deering because of the slew of campus events that have been happening, such as the ‘It’s Okay To Be White’ stickers that have been found in multiple places on campus and the noose that has been found at SPAC,” Barrios said.

Sustained Dialogue hopes to engage diverse groups across campus with different identities and background to gain a better understanding of the campus climate. Barrios believes that if the Northwestern community is unaware of their existence, they cannot engage in the skill building required to achieve effective social justice change.Molly Basdeo Mountjoy, the Assistant Director for New Student and Family Programs at Northwestern, said she hoped to hear different student experiences and connect with them outside of work.

“I’m looking forward to learning and thinking more accurately about my role as a staff member,” she said. Basdeo Mountjoy also helps advise and oversee Northwestern’s Pre-Orientations Programs.

Barrios, along with two other Sustained Dialogue board members, led an activity called ‘Take a Stand’ where a statement is read and students place themselves somewhere in the room between ‘strongly agree’ and ‘strongly disagree,' with a wall representing each stance. Participants are able to share experiences and be as vulnerable as they would like in the subsequent discussion.

One of the first statements read was “I believe that wealth disparity on this campus is a problem.” Almost immediately, everyone moved toward the ‘strongly agree’ side of the room. A few minutes later, the room was nearly evenly divided after a statement about Northwestern prioritizing mental health.

“Nobody wants help,” said one staff member. “Everybody wants to be excellent.”  

Barrios says the primary purpose of the annual Dialogue at Deering event is to process, learn, connect and heal.

“[Social justice work] has to come from an awareness of ourselves, it has to come from the empathy we build around each other," she said. "That’s what the core of our work should be.”