TU GATHER provided a space for healthy conversation among students regarding sensitive issues people typically turn away from.
Anders Soderquist, student body president, and Tali Valentine, student body vice president, hosted TU Gather in Mitchell Theater on Thursday, Sept. 26. Valentine and four Taylor faculty members spoke about how to have meaningful discussions with people who may disagree with you.
During a student senate meeting in October of 2018, Campus Pastor Jon Cavanagh brought up the question of how to bridge the gap between groups on campus. This question had been on Soderquist’s heart prior to the meeting. Soderquist, Cavanagh and junior Mallory Hooks, who is a student senator, decided there needed to be a gathering of people to bring the groups together.
“In the past there has been this pattern of talking at each other rather than with one another,” Hooks said. “By purposely taking a critical look at how we interact and converse, we can change this pattern and learn to speak from a place of compassion and collaboration, rather than indifference and individuality.”
When Soderquist was first thinking about it, he was hoping others would benefit from the event; mainly that they could talk about political differences in a healthy way.
He believed people with different views could gather in the same room to reframe the conversation around difficult issues.
“We had seen a breakdown in conversation,” Soderquist said. “We couldn't disagree well with one another; we couldn't share different perspectives without getting really upset.”
As he worked on it, he realized he also needed direction to engage in better conversations.
Soderquist wanted people on every side of every issue there. He did not want all of the liberals or conservatives on campus to come and think their ideas were correct. He wanted everyone to come, and for them to be challenged and encouraged.
“We should be able to engage one another's differences, or difference of opinion, or even different beliefs sometimes, without getting so angry with one another,” Soderquist said.
About 150 students attended TU Gather. Soderquist opened the event with prayer and an invitation for students to listen to the speakers.
Provost Michael Hammond spoke about listening and religious divide. Valentine spoke about growing while in the proximity of others. Students then had time to answer reflection questions on projector screens.
Debby Cheruiyot Bii, director of international student programs, spoke about the importance of listening and the idea that everyone is made in the image of God. Jeff Aupperle, director of the Calling and Career Office, spoke about the evils of anger and contempt and how to show agape love. Students were then given more time for reflection.
Interim President Paige Comstock Cunningham closed with a message about unity and reconciliation. Sophomore Hannah Embree said Cunningham’s message was her favorite because of Cunningham’s personal experience with some of the topics.
“She really demonstrated the fact that she’s thought about things from different perspectives,” Embree said.
Soderquist hopes that there will be more events like this in the future to handle other hard topics. He thinks discussions like this should happen every fall.