Humphrey School News—April 21, 2020

How Can We Create Spaces for Constructive Conversations That Lift Up All Voices?

We asked four members of the Humphrey School community to weigh in on this big question.

Fernando Burga, Assistant Professor, Humphrey School

Head shot of Assistant Professor Fernando BurgaThe main factor for developing constructive conversations is enabling trust. We often assume that others can speak without fear, or imagine that individuals will have the full capacity and freedom to express themselves. But to ensure that all voices are lifted up, we need to become self aware of such assumptions. We must acknowledge power relationships. We must uphold trust as the key to fostering dialogues where all can participate without fear of retribution and judgment.

Acooa Ellis (MPP '07), Senior Vice President of Community Impact, United Way

Head shot of Accoa Ellis, Humphrey School alumnaFour things are necessary for constructive, inclusive conversations. The first is humility. Assume that everyone has something to teach you. Humility is required to own that we each possess blind spots and triggers; this yields greater self-awareness, a key component of nonverbal communication. Second is a willingness to listen to understand—not to respond, disprove, or dismiss. Third, we must remain curious and resist the urge to fill gaps in information with preconceived notions regarding one another’s intentions. Last, one can honor these conversations with action.

Monica Meyer (MPP '99), Executive Director, OutFront Minnesota

Head shot of Humphrey School alumna Monica MeyerWe desperately need more love and justice in the world right now. While some people work to create and foment division and fear in our country, we can choose to have bold transformative conversations and relationships that break down barriers. As an out lesbian who works to make our state more inclusive and equitable for LGBTQ people, I am so inspired by all of the courageous people who come out, and hope people choose to see our humanity over the stereotypes and prejudice pervasive in Minnesota and across the country. To recognize, unlearn and eradicate the toxins of racism, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all of the other -isms, people have to acknowledge we are not living in an equal society. It is hard to hate up close if people are truly compelled to be more open and see more beauty in humanity.

Thalya Reyes, PhD Student, Public Affairs and Urban Planning

Head shot of PhD student Thalya ReyesCreating and actively participating in unions with strong social justice politics and accountability measures can support spaces for constructive conversations. Whether labor unions or community-based tenants' and transit riders' unions, facilitating a deep sense and affirmation of mutual respect is essential for transformative political actions like anti-sexual harassment and anti-racist policies and practices. The Chicago and West Virginia teachers' and school personnel strikes demonstrate that when labor unions and community groups see their struggles as shared, we can all come together for discussions and subsequent actions that advance the common good.

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