The Cultural Affairs Commission has started a new program called Culture Talks, a series of open discussions where students gather to voice their opinions on social issues that people may be hesitant to talk about. Their goal is to inspire students to critically analyze the stigmas and silence around them through communication.
Don: Say you’re walking past Kerckhoff Art Gallery one night and you come across a group of people having a conversation. Some of them seem to know each other, but it looks like most of them have never met before. And they’re talking about – of all things – periods.
You just stumbled across Culture Talks, a new biweekly event hosted by the Cultural Affairs Commission.
The discussions work like this: People sit in circles with larger circles of people around them. The people in the middle kick off the conversations, and people in the outer circles can tap in whenever they feel ready and have something they want to contribute, something third-year psychobiology student Caroline Fernandes considers an equalizer of sorts.
Fernandes: We have a Socratic circle because it’s more of a community type discussion. Because everyone sits in a circle there’s no hierarchy where the people in the panel are experts.
Don: Cultural Affairs Commissioner Amy Shao sees these talks as a way of changing how people talk about sensitive issues.
Shao: A lot of people are just going at each other, coming for each other’s lives – the reason why that happens is because no one’s talking. I always say, “You never assume, you always ask.” When you offer this space, people are coming to the space and asking.
Don: While lots of students on campus turn to social media to voice their opinions, it’s not rare to see these conversations devolve into a mess of hateful comments and personal attacks. As a result, nobody’s really trying to learn anything – they’re just trying to prove themselves right. And with everyone trying to shout over each other, no one’s voice gets heard at all. CAC chooses a new theme for Culture Talks each quarter.
Shao: The first launch was essentially something that no one ever talks about, which is women and their bodies and the menstruation cycle.
Don: It’s a subject that might make most people a little uneasy. But that’s the point. The stigma and silence surrounding the issue still affects everything from gender roles to women’s access to basic sanitation. It’s a topic with real-world consequences that no one seems to want to talk about – and that’s exactly the kind of issue that Culture Talks wants to tackle. Once you get people talking about these issues, students can think critically about the stigmas surrounding them and begin to break them down. The discussions are an opportunity for people to learn to listen to other perspectives first without immediately passing judgment on issues that make them uncomfortable.
Shao: You are uncomfortable, but it’s in the instance where you’re critically challenging yourself, it’s the best kind of uncomfortable because you’re growing.
Don: The idea is that when people have the opportunity to open up, they’ll eventually be comfortable enough to start confronting these issues in their daily lives. Third-year (mathematics student) Melody Chen, CAC’s collective director, hopes that the communication skills people pick up from Culture Talks can have a positive impact that goes beyond just the events themselves.
Chen: If you’re coming from the event and you’re going to somewhere else, and you’re like “Oh, I went to this event” – then that sparked a conversation. It’s just kind of like a catalyst, I think.
Don: CAC plans to continue hosting Culture Talks. Winter quarter’s theme is going to be cultural appropriation, and although we can’t spoil what’s planned after that, just know that Culture Talks will be here to stay for the years to come. For Daily Bruin Radio, this is Jasmine Don.