Space for Authentic Conversations
Bluffton University’s year-long exploration of the theme “Please Don’t ‘Ghost’ Me!: Creating Space for Authentic Conversations” culminated on March 29 with Civic Engagement Day.
Students, faculty and staff attended sessions centered on the theme instead of following a typical Wednesday class schedule. Styled like a conference, sessions ranged from sociology students presenting about negativity and anonymity on the app YikYak to interactive theatre workshops on conversations surrounding race and gender expectations.
“We want Bluffton students to be able to encounter and work with people who come from different life experiences, who have different perspectives,” said Dr. Lamar Nisly, vice president and dean of academic affairs. “It’s one of the reasons we think cross-cultural experiences are so important, and a day like today is a chance to reflect on that directly.”
Olivia (Lou) Westcott ’23, a convergent media major from Toledo, Ohio, engaged in the day by presenting a session on defining emotions with Pastor Marcella Ciccotelli. Using examples from Brené Brown’s book, “Atlas of the Heart,” the two shared about some lesser discussed emotions such as wonder and humility and how understanding them can lead to better connection and more authentic conversations.
“It’s all about realizing what we are feeling while also communicating,” said Westcott. “With so much social media, you can just get lost in your own head and decide to ghost someone. But that means you’re inhibiting yourself from communicating and you’re inhibiting them from being able to communicate with you, too.”
Westcott and Ciccotelli’s presentation reflected some of the thoughts Marathana Prothro, assistant professor of communication, explored in her Civic Engagement Forum, presented a day earlier.
Titled “Echo chambers and funhouse mirrors: Navigating an age of alternate facts, distorted reality and fractured relationships,” Prothro shared research from Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan and discussed how technology originally developed to ease or improve communication has also led to disconnection.
“I am curious about how we might do things differently because no matter how well-intentioned we are when looking at solving problems, we can’t actually make progress unless we understand the problems and unless we understand our particular roles within those problems,” said Prothro.
To truly engage with people, Prothro suggested adapting your behavior and coming into potentially difficult conversations with humility, curiosity and vulnerability.
In total, more than 20 Civic Engagement Day presentations were available for the campus community to choose from starting at 8 a.m. and continuing through to an evening presentation ending around 8 p.m.
At Bluffton, an annual Civic Engagement theme has been selected each year since 2007 when the topic “Environmental Stewardship: Living in the Natural World” was studied. More recent themes include “Cultivating Modern Minimalism: Planet, People and Popular Culture” and “Integrity, Truth, Virtue: Bluffton’s Honor Code in the World.”
“These days are always exciting to me because you can never tell quite how they’re going to take shape,” said Nisly. “As always happens on this day, it was amazing. There were an outflowing of ideas and people speaking from their lives and their learning. It’s always a gift to learn together in this way.”