“Who is in your community?” That’s the question an upcoming conversation for students will ask about life on the Ithaca College campus.
The discussion, scheduled for Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. in Emerson Suites, is the first of four conversations organized by the Director of Programs and Outreach Sean Eversley Bradwell and Hillel with the help of Ask Big Questions, a national initiative dedicated to improving civic learning and engagement through reflective conversations. Ask Big Questions conversations feature guided group dialogue centered on evocative questions that matter to everyone and that everyone can answer. Additional discussions are scheduled for Nov. 8, Feb. 7 and March 6.
Lauren Goldberg, executive director of Hillel at Ithaca College, got the idea to bring Ask Big Questions to the college after reading the results of the campus climate survey held in fall 2016. “I immediately recognized that there’s work to be done on this campus, and my first thought was about how well Ask Big Questions would address some of the deficits illuminated by the campus climate survey,” she said.
Goldberg has used Ask Big Questions before during difficult times on other college campuses, and credits the program with having an immediate calming effect. She said that Ask Big Questions has collected data on its programming and found that 94 percent of participants say that they feel more connected to their community after just one conversation.
Part of the Ask Big Questions mission is to bring together people from different backgrounds. Goldberg said Hillel and the director of programs and outreach are working with key partners across campus, including First-Year Residential Experience, the Office of Residential Life, the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and various faith communities, to make sure that a diverse group of students participate.
“The further and further we get away from real meaningful interaction and dialogue with people that are very different from ourselves, the less connected we become as a community,” said Goldberg.
Ask Big Questions has several links to Ithaca College. It was co-founded and developed by an alumna, Sheila Katz ’05. The vice president of student engagement and leadership at Hillel International, Katz is currently serving as the Ask Big Questions interim executive director. She says that while it is often easy for students to find others like them at college, it can be difficult to bring different groups together.
“Ask Big Questions helps students of all backgrounds understand themselves and others,” said Katz. “We foster conversations that create a community and let us see beyond our differences.”
Another alumna, Leah Siskin Moz ’04, works as the associate director of dialogue and inclusion at Hillel International. She helped Goldberg bring Ask Big Questions to Ithaca College and is assisting with training those leading conversations at the college.
“It is very much an Ithaca College program,” said Goldberg. “I think it really reflects Ithaca College’s values of dialogue and inclusion, celebrating diversity, inviting a multitude of voices to the table, and really gaining strength from that kind of pluralistic dialogue.”