Students discuss racial issues in new learning community

By Maureen Wilkey

Students living on the first and second floors of Babcock Hall are engaging in intergroup dialogues on racial and ethnic diversity, thanks to the creation of a new living-learning community in PAR.

The Intersections living-learning community started this fall as a part of former Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s intergroup dialogue initiative, said program coordinator for housing and residential life Dr. Lydia Khuri.

A group of students, staff and faculty worked to organize the community over the course of the 2003-2004 school year. In the fall, 41 students registered to live in the community, although all residents on those floors are welcome to join this year free of charge.

“The delight of this community is that they are very diverse in many ways,” said Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing for marketing. “There are people of all different backgrounds, races, genders and even majors.”

The students in the community are required to take Educational and Organizational Leadership 199, a class in intergroup dialogue. They also participate in “Java Jives,” a forum on race, ethnicity and democracy issues, every Monday night. This week, they discussed what their friends look like.

“Students were talking about if their friends were of the same ethnicity they were and why that happens or doesn’t happen,” Khuri said. “It was really great seeing students dialogue on the issues and get to know each other.”

Khuri is scheduling guest speakers and a movie series followed by moderated discussions for Intersections students throughout the semester.

She said that in addition to the organized student discussions, she hopes they will talk about the issues at hand informally as well.

“They are living together, they have academic requirements together and they socialize together,” Khuri said. “I’m sure race and ethnicity will come up in regular conversation too. This is a very open community.”

The Intersections community, billed on its website as “A project in diversity, dialogue, and democracy,” is working in cooperation with the Center on Democracy in a Multi-Racial Society and the Ethnography of the University. Marc Goldman, the assistant director for academic programs, said that being a part of a larger whole is one of the best parts of the program.

“Intergroup dialogue has been on this campus for a long time,” Goldman said. “It’s great that we can bring in the residential component. Getting so many different pieces together is the most exciting part.”

Khuri said there are still a few spaces available within the Intersections program, which can house up to 110 people. For more information on Intersections, visit the program’s Web site at www.housing.uiuc.edu/living/intersections.