A common frustration we hear during the Women’s Studies Brown Bags is that we have our “regulars” who attend the brown bags every week without fail and yet these “regulars” don’t even know one another. They see each other every week and discuss intimate topics related to feminism, and yet they don’t even know each other’s name or acknowledge each other on the quad. We, as Women’s Studies Interns, decided to try something new and host a Brown Bag solely dedicated towards community building to combat this problem.
We started off with some ground rules that would be implemented specifically during Brown Bags (but most apply at all times). These guidelines, formulated by the interns and audience members, included “respect confidentiality, exit quietly, use gender neutral language, and awareness of differences.”
After the guidelines had been brainstormed, interns led various exercises designed to allow people to get to know one another. To get people comfortable with talking to one another everyone was asked to discuss an artifact or item that represents an aspect of their identity with their neighbor. For example, an artifact could signify a relationship with a particular person or region. Then, the second activity fostered an appreciation of the diverse identities within the space by having people write down and share their own identities. Some that were mentioned were ‘student,’ ‘sibling,’ ‘feminist’ (!), ‘athlete,’ ‘gay,’ etc. Finally, the third activity asked people to write down the most important person, place, and life event. Then, they had to get to know a stranger without mentioning any of the words they had identified as most important. This cultivated very different conversations than the ones students were used to having.
Although the Brown Bag started with people dragging their heels and unwilling to participate, eventually many appreciated what the brown bag was trying to accomplish. For those that actively engaged in the tasks, the Brown Bag was a success!
- Michelle Van Veen '14