Learning Community Conversation Guide for Session 1 – Introduction and Habit 1: But I’m Not A Racist: Understanding the –isms

Suggested Reading: Pages 1-10

Note: The portions in quotes and italics are suggested phrasing, and should be adapted for style but not necessarily content/meaning 

1) Start: Welcome 

“Welcome to our Learning Community, a book discussion group for exploring the pitfalls and tips for positive engagement across difference. Today is primarily an introductory session to lay out why we’re here, the framework for our next sessions, and the ground rules for discussion. 

“Whether we think about it often or not, we each want to be treated with a minimum level of dignity and respect, and we tend to notice fairly quickly when we’re not. Someone’s offhand comment or assumption can ruin our day, or make us feel that we aren’t welcome or don’t belong. Maybe their choice of words has a particular meaning in the context of our sexual orientation, gender, race or background. Maybe they chose those words to hurt us, OR maybe they had no idea that their words had that impact, and still didn’t understand when we brought it to their attention. 

“Each of us has had that happen to us at some point, and even though we probably think we’re treating others with respect, chances are that we’ve ruined someone’s day with our words as well. We may not always catch the impact of our words until after we’ve spoken them, and even then perhaps not until someone brings it to our attention. The goal of this Learning Community is not for us to become perfect in our interactions with others; we’ll all say the wrong thing again at some point. However, as we work through this book, we’ll come to a point where we can be more mindful of others, and able to do the work of building stronger relationships and engagements after we say the wrong thing.” 

2) Introductions: Facilitator models introduction for group (name, role on campus, a time I said the wrong thing or was reluctant to speak because I was afraid I’d offend people) 

Participants introduce selves (names, pronouns if comfortable, role, a time said the wrong thing, etc) 

3) Ground Rules for Discussion (moderator should read verbatim) 

“We’re here together to have respectful discussions about how to engage across difference. As we move through this book, we will engage in discussions about subjects that many of us may think about, but aren’t usually comfortable talking about in mixed company or any company. This is intended as a supportive space for us to engage in these discussions without fear of judgment or condemnation. The Office of Equity and Inclusion has provided ground rules to follow, in order for us to make this a space where we can have these discussions openly and without fear. We will refer to these ground rules at the beginning of each session." 

  • Speak Your Truth: Share from your own experiences
  • Seek to Understand: Actively listen, before responding 
  • Respect Others’ Experience: We may have different OR similar stories to share, and contexts to draw from. All are legitimate. 
  • Disagree Without Discord: Disagreement is expected. HOWEVER,
    • Approach unexpected ideas with curiosity, not argument. 
    • If you disagree, debate and challenge ideas. Don’t attack the speaker. 
  • Share the Air: Make room for all voices to be heard, and don’t dominate the conversation. 
  • Confidentiality: 
    • Share stories and experiences, but don’t identify individual people or provide details that would allow someone in your story to be identified. 
    • Do not share the experiences you hear in this space outside this space. 

Does anyone have ideas for other ground rules that should be included along with these? (Give 5-10 min to brainstorm and list) 

“In addition to these ground rules, we should also discuss conflict management. The subject matter we’ll be addressing brings with it the potential for disagreement. For example, a member may express that a particular account of bias—from the book or as described by a fellow participant—isn’t really bias in their opinion. This sort of comment may lead to others in the group feeling offended, marginalized, and wanting to withdraw from the discussion, even if the speaker did not intend for their words to be hurtful. 

“We can decide right now—as a group—how we want to manage these moments when they occur, especially when disagreement escalates to conflict or overt disrespect. For example, we may opt to pause the conversation, identify the comments or ideas that are causing conflict or discomfort, and then each take a moment to write down our reactions to the comment or behavior on an index card. We can then decide collectively how we would like to continue and re-enter the conversation, and ensure that we engage—not avoid—that moment or behavior in a manner that all participants are comfortable with. (Pause for 8 to 10 minutes to create strategies for managing conflict) 

4) Next Sessions 

“Each meeting, we’ll discuss a theme related to dignity and respect, with the conversation loosely guided by the chapters that are most relevant to this discussion. Themes and their relevant chapters can be found on the Learning Community Moodle page.” 

“We may also decide not to follow this guide, and to advance through the book in an order we feel is more appropriate for our group. Whichever approach we choose, the logistical facilitator will email a reminder to the group at the end of each week, of what next week’s discussion will entail.” 

“As logistical facilitator of this group, I’ve been moderating this first meeting. However, because this Learning Community is not based on any one person having all of the answers, we will be sharing moderation ‘duties’ each week, to ensure that each person gets an opportunity to help lead the discussion. In other words, I ideally won’t lead the discussion again, you all will. At the end of each meeting, one of us may volunteer to moderate the next meeting. Moderation primarily involves welcoming us to the meeting, posting the questions, and keeping time. If there is a theme that you know right now that you would like to help lead discussion on, you can call it out now. Otherwise, we could decide week to week. 

5) Questions (about anything)? 

Group Activity

In Chapter/Habit 1, Myers discusses historical power dynamics and relative advantage, and lays out how we each can be “one up” or “one down” on others, depending on the context and our background. 

Question 1: Before reading this book, had you ever given thought to historical privilege and advantage? 

Objective: The idea of privilege makes some people uncomfortable. The goal is to allow for discussion in which participants can examine why. 

Question 2: What thoughts did this piece bring up for you? What surprised you or challenged how you normally think/thought about privilege or advantage? 

Objective: We often think of our society as a place where everyone has the same (or close to the same) opportunity to succeed and thrive. The goal of this discussion is to reflect on how historical patterns of sorting/ranking each other (by race, religion, gender, language, orientation) still have powerful effects on how we relate to one another today.