A Year of Training

Mizzou doctoral student reflects on her experiences and what she’s learned following University of Missouri System workshops.

Headshot of Maria ButauskiBy Maria Butauski

The work it takes to create a campus and a System that fosters diversity and inclusion is never done, but with confidence, I say that we are taking strides in the right direction. I have been afforded several opportunities through the Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity to learn and reflect upon issues surrounding social justice, diversity, and inclusion.

It all began with the “Social Justice Mediation Training Student Workshop” led by the Social Justice Mediation Institute, held in January before classes started. In this workshop, I worked side-by-side with students from across the UM System to learn about the importance of getting people’s “below the line” stories, or the stories less heard. You know, those stories that are so often silenced because they do not follow the master narrative.

This workshop made me better equipped to facilitate vulnerable discussions with my students around culture, gender, sexuality, and class as it relates to interpersonal communication. More importantly, it helped me reflect on my own experiences of discrimination as a queer individual and the experiences of other minority groups.

Later in the semester, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-day workshop on “Creating an Inclusive and Socially Just Campus” through the Social Justice Training Institute. This workshop was equally eye-opening. It gave me a chance to meet staff from across the UM System and thoughtfully discuss ideas for continuing to make our campus more inclusive.

In June, I was granted another opportunity to learn from the trainers of the Social Justice Mediation Institute, Deepika Marya and Leah Wing, for the full certification in social justice mediation alongside staff and faculty from the entire UM System. Like any 40-hour training, it was exhausting and challenging, but in all the right ways. During lunch breaks, I took time to reflect on our discussions and brainstorm ways to integrate a social justice perspective in my own classroom. In the evenings, my mind was still racing as I reflected upon my training and the deliberate, critical discussions I had with my peers throughout the day. This training reinvigorated the (very tired) social justice warrior in my heart.

It’s a daunting experience to live in our polarized society, especially when you feel the need to constantly help people “check their privilege” or consider others’ points of view on hot-button issues like immigration, gun control, and discrimination. How can we understand each other if we are talking at, instead of with, one another? If we want to understand one another, we must be willing to get at people’s stories “below the line.” Although this certification was for mediation from a social justice perspective, what I learned throughout the training is applicable to so much more than conflict resolution.

Flash back to Fall 2015, my first year at Mizzou. As a first-generation college student, I was still in awe over the fact that I had been accepted to Department of Communication’s doctoral program. I was uncertain about what the following years would entail, but most importantly, I had no idea what was about to unfold on our campus or how it would impact me, my students, and the campus community.

Fall 2015 is a time many of us will never forget. Tensions were high. Students of color were speaking up about the systematic oppression and racism they face on a regular basis. The Concerned Student 1950 student group organized. There were protests. Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike. Football players, with the support of their coach, announced they would stand in solidarity. These efforts started a much larger conversation about diversity and inclusion on our campus and System-wide.

Whether one is mediating a dispute between two parties or two parties are simply arguing different points of view, we cannot reach an adequate resolution or shared understanding without learning one another’s stories. By this I mean, we need to take the time to learn the why. The why behind people’s feelings. The why behind people’s beliefs and values. The why behind people’s behaviors. How do we learn the why (or people’s stories below the line)?

We learn the why by being “multi-partial,” as Leah and Deepika would describe, and inviting people to share their stories openly and honestly. If we can create safe spaces for story gathering (and transmitting), and communicate in ways that help people share their stories openly and honestly, we can take the perspectives of others and help others take the perspectives of others.

In doing so, we can reach more amicable and fair resolutions. We can reach a deeper shared understanding of one another. We can develop a respect we may have previously lacked for one another. And, ultimately, we can become more socially just and inclusive as a community.

Maria Butauski is a doctoral student within the Department of Communication at the University of Missouri in Columbia.