Feb 28 2018

OPINION: Piedmont Speaks Up on Diversity

Lets Talk –

In contradiction to what many people may believe, Piedmont is a diverse city. Each person has their own story to tell, and in our busy lives those stories are often left untold.

The Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee (PADC) gave Piedmont residents a chance to share some of these stories when they held several interactive group sessions called “Let’s Talk” at the Piedmont Veterans Hall. These meetings took place on three different dates, and PADC hosts other similar events throughout the year.

The speaker,  Sara Wicht, has over 20 years of experience in social justice and anti-bias education. The slogan for the “Let’s Talk” conference was “Building a more inclusive Piedmont through deliberative dialogue.” Since everyone has their own opinions and views, this can be a touchy subject. Sara handled this very effectively by allowing the meetings to function as discussions rather than lessons. All of the people attending were seated among an array of circular tables. Sara would bring up a topic that everyone in the room could speak to, and then each table group would discuss it.

One of the main topics of the meeting was Identity. Everyone was to write down how they identified in response to each item from a list of seven components of identity. The list consisted of: gender, sexual orientation, race, social status, citizenship, language(s), and religion. What these categories shared in common is that we are all born into these things. We have no choice (or are at least heavily influenced by external factors such as parents and the environment we grew up in) in how we identify in these categories. After we had responded to all of the seven prompts, we were asked to cross off an item from our list that we felt was least important to us. This was repeated until only one category was left. The most fascinating thing about this exercise is that everyone felt differently about what was most important. Some people who had attended multiple meetings said that the most important item on their list had changed since the previous meeting. A woman at my table even said that her most important item changed based on what the most prevalent political issue at the time was.

I was active in the conversation at my table throughout the three hour meeting. At first, I was rather shy because I did not really know any of the people at my table, but I quickly realized that they were at the meeting specifically to hear what other people had to say. My favorite contribution to the group was when we were discussing how we reacted towards people expressing specific emotions. If someone came to me and told me that they felt guilty about something, I said that “I would react by saying it wasn’t their fault even if it was to make them feel better about it.” This was my favorite contribution because everyone at my group strongly agreed even though my response was pretty far from the recommended strategy.

The other main topic covered during my time at “Let’s Talk” was Implicit Bias. Sara gave several hypothetical scenarios and asked the audience whether there was implicit bias going on, and if so, what was it? The most thoroughly discussed example was as follows: A black woman in Piedmont who is standing in front of her house is asked if she needs directions. I believed that there was implicit bias because the person assumes the woman doesn’t live in Piedmont because of her race. I was surprised to hear another member of the audience say that there was no implicit bias at all. He argued that the person asking if the woman needed directions was simply being nice and trying to be helpful. There was no definite resolution to the argument, but there was a chance for people to hear sides of the story that they may have otherwise not heard.

Attending “Let’s Talk” was an eye-opening experience for me. I heard many stories and opinions that I may never have otherwise been exposed to. The environment was a place where I felt safe and comfortable to talk about myself, and I fulfilled my initial goal of learning about how Piedmont perceives diversity. I highly recommend attending one of the PADC’s events because everyone will get something different out of the experience and it is pretty fun hearing stories from all sorts of people you otherwise may not have met..

 Xavier Talwatte, Student from Piedmont Unified School District

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