By Daniel C. Houston
Baylor moved forward Monday with plans to facilitate student discussion of sensitive topics like human sexuality and relationships between people of different faiths, inviting suggestions for topics at a public forum open to students.
The Discerning Dialogues program will consist of a series of discussions starting next semester and facilitated by trained students working for the office of the vice president for student life.
Eight students participated in Monday’s information-gathering forum, during which graduate student Adam Visconti invited student input into what the forum should look like.
“I think it went really well,” Visconti said after the event. “Everyone contributed. Everyone who was here really looked like they were engaged and feeling comfortable talking about the issues that they wanted to talk about. I think it was a great opportunity; I look forward to seeing more students at more open forums and Discerning Dialogues in the future.”
Student participants broke up into two groups and brainstormed subjects they each would like to see discussed, then shared their ideas with the whole group. The consensus topics were issues pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, as well as issues of diversity of religious beliefs in campus life.
Other suggested subjects included Baylor’s strategic direction moving forward, ways Baylor can engage the broader Waco community, environmental sustainability issues and government topics like immigration policy and marijuana prohibition.
Dr. Elizabeth Palacios, dean for student development, said having trained students facilitate the discussions will help guide the conversation in a productive direction.
“The last thing we want to do is have a forum where people are at odds and there’s no consensus about what’s good for our university,” Palacios said. “We want to be able to speak as a community. We don’t have to always agree with each other, but hopefully we can always be respectful of each other.”
Fort Collins sophomore Adam Short, president of the Sexual Identity Forum (SIF), an unofficial student organization supporting discussion of LGBT issues, was in attendance Monday and told the Lariat he thought Discerning Dialogues would not fully meet the needs of many students.
“I think Discerning Dialogues is a good idea, but the issue with it is that it steps around the issue instead of addressing the issue,” Short said. “They’re going to be talking about a variety issues in a professional setting, and I think that’s absolutely awesome. But the issue is when it’s a student-run group with student officers … I feel as if that’s very much needed for students that want to really discuss sexual identity and sexuality in a comfortable setting.”
SIF has been in the process of requesting recognition as a fully chartered student organization since Spring 2011, submitting its most recent request to the Student Activities Charter Council last semester.
The council has not yet made a public decision whether to recommend the charter request.