Wildcat Dialogues promotes sense of belonging, emphasizes meaningful conversation

The annual Wildcat Dialogues event is centered on creating a sense of belonging and emphasizing meaningful dialogues. (Archive photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

The annual Wildcat Dialogues event for new and first-year students is centered on creating a sense of belonging and emphasizing meaningful dialogues. With over 800 students participating, 80 volunteer facilitators led over 130 small groups. The event spanned multiple sessions from Sept. 13-16.

Hosted completely through Zoom, the event saw students in small groups with a facilitator guiding them through an experience surrounding this year’s theme, “My Story – Your Story – Our Story.”

Debra Bolton, director of intercultural learning and academic success, said it’s important to introduce new students to the concept of engaging with their own stories.

“How did I develop this lens through which I see the world?” Bolton said. “How did I develop my behaviors, my preferences? … Every human has that story. Every human has a culture. Every human has more than one identity.”

The Staley School of Leadership Studies, Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs and K-State First — alongside a committee of students and faculty — hosted the event and encouraged students to find common ground.

“The lines of separation begin to blur when we start to understand one another,” Bolton said. “We don’t have to agree politically, but having that dialogue helps anybody to say ‘OK, I may not agree with everything you just said, but I respect you as a human, and I am curious about your journey.'”

Between discussions, facilitators showed videos of students sharing their stories. Each student told a story about different aspects of their identity. Following the videos, students were encouraged to reflect and then share their own stories.

Bolton said one of the goals of the event was to develop a sense of curiosity in students.

“We’re all part of the global community,” Bolton said. “The whole thing is just knowing yourself, having the curiosity to learn about others, and maybe even admitting to ourselves, ‘Mine isn’t the only narrative, there are other narratives.'”

Jade Valdez-Gomez, sophomore in dietetics, participated in the dialogue and said she saw students become more vulnerable as the discussions progressed.

“Sometimes silence pushed us to talk,” Valdez-Gomez said. “There was a point halfway through the dialogue where a wall came down. We got into a deep discussion concerning the things that most people may not see on the outside. I really started to engage with other students and see a different side that they may not have exposed had we not created an atmosphere of belonging and safety.”

More Wildcat “Mini-Dialogues” will take place throughout the year for students to attend and engage in dialogue around specific topics and identities.