During the months of March and April, a series of five panel discussions related to “American Politics and Our Democratic Principles” have taken place. The discussions were held in the Ostrander Auditorium of the CSU. On Wednesday, April 19, the last panel discussion was held, with the title “What Should I Say and How Should I Say It? Communication Strategies for Challenging Conversations.”
The event started with an introduction, followed by five speakers for five minutes each. The speakers were MNSU faculty with expertise on the topic of challenging conversations.
Kristen Cvancara, an associate professor of Communications Studies at MNSU, was the first panelist to speak. She addressed holding challenging conversations with close relationships like family members, friends, and colleagues.
She said, “We all know what a challenging conversation feels like. It’s that sick pit in our stomach, sweaty palms, anxiety, and it is often associated with a bit of a cloud in our mind.” She said that we often use avoidance to save ourselves from hassle, which in the end does not bring resolution to the problem at hand.
Briana Williamson, the director of student success for institutional diversity, was the next to speak. She has experience with interacting with students and helping them talk about their personal traumas.
She said, “When I heard the topic of the panel being challenging conversations, initially I thought about, ‘what are the ways on a daily basis that we have these challenging conversations.’” She thought about how she interacts with students on a day-to-day basis as a professional. She asked herself, “What are the things that the students wish that we, as the professionals in the situation, knew about them?” How do those unknown aspects of our lives impact our relationships?
Sachi Sekimoto, an associate professor of Communication Studies, first thought about race when thinking about the topic of this discussion.
She said, “Race, I think, is one of the most challenging things to talk about, especially in this political climate. It is everywhere: it is always on the news, on our minds, shaping our relationships, our conflict, and also solutions that we provide.” She brought the challenging dialogue regarding race to a local level by mentioning “Minnesota nice.”
“Minnesota nice can be a genuine niceness and hospitality. On the other side of the spectrum, Minnesota nice is just simple passive-aggressiveness. Minnesota nice is about kind of understating your worth and your culture,” Sekimoto said. Minnesota nice can therefore be perceived as a barrier or wall between cultures, preventing people from talking about real issues.
Chris Brown, a professor of Communication Studies, was interested in civility, fear, and managing conflict. Renee Turgeon, the assistant director of the Women’s Center focused on empathy and active listening.
After all of the panelists had spoken, the discussion was opened up to the audience, who asked questions for the panelists to answer. The open discussion lasted for about 30 minutes. The panel closed with remarks of gratitude toward those who had helped make the event possible.
Panel discussions similar to these are planned to take place next year as well. Future themes may be related to agriculture, as that plays a large role in our economy in Southern Minnesota, or health and biomedical sciences, as that academic area is being expanded on our campus with the addition of the new health and clinical sciences building.