First Diversity Dialogue of the Year Aims to Bridge Communication Gaps

Students try to communicate during the role-playing activity. PHOTO BY JIM MALVEN.

Students try to communicate during the role-playing activity. PHOTO BY JIM MALVEN.



Westminster’s residential advisors co-sponsored the first Diversity Dialogue of the school year on Aug. 26 to focus on bridging the communication gap between students with different cultural backgrounds.

Every two weeks, a panel of Westminster students hosts a Diversity Dialogue in Hermann Lounge. The meetings aim to be a forum for intellectual discussion on issues rooted in the diversity of the Westminster community and the world at large.

The session on Aug. 26 began with a role-playing activity. First, the RAs handed out a slip of paper to each of the 30-plus students in attendance. Half of the students were given a yellow slip, while the other half were given a blue one. On both colored papers there were directions participants had to follow while trying to communicate with a member of the opposite group.

Members of the blue group were instructed to remain an arm’s-length distance from their partner, speak softly, and avoid eye contact. Meanwhile, members of the yellow group were instructed to maintain eye contact, speak loudly, and stay close to their partners.

Students were asked to simply talk about how their day was going, but the behavioral instructions made the topic difficult to communicate. Members of both groups felt uncomfortable with their partner’s behavior, and students focused more on their discomfort than on their actual conversation.

After this activity, students were brought back to their tables for a collective debriefing. Both students and the RAs concluded that the barriers faced in this experiment are similar to cultural barriers that get in the way while communicating in real life. For example, different cultures accept different body positioning while speaking to one another, though they may not be as extreme as those acted out in the role-playing experiment.

The simulation also represented other real world obstacles, such as stereotypes, or the ways that we view members of particular groups or cultures. To further examine stereotypes, the RAs showed a video explaining how each person sees the world through certain filters or lenses and underscoring the need to be aware of these lenses before speaking, acting, or judging others.

At the end of the session, attendees decided that there are two ways to bridge the communication gap: Students must be open to other people’s views and be willing to put aside their own, and students must be direct with one another.

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