Dialogue in times of fracture Events Exploring local and national divides | Rutgers University
Before the pandemic, before the murder of George Floyd and the January 6 attacks on the Capitol building, there was already enough national polarization to inspire three Rutgers-Newark professors to create a project called “Dialogue in a Time of Fracture” as part of their Mellon Humanities Fellowship.
In 2019, they began planning events and a digital platform to continue conversations after the series ended. Once the COVID-19 outbreak hit in 2020, followed by the social and political upheavals of the following two years, they saw an even greater need for campus-wide dialogue.
The project will launch next week, including a two-day symposium from March 24-25, workshops and the RU-N Dialogue platform – rundialogue.rutgers.edu.
“As these things were happening, we were coming together to talk,” said faculty member Jason Cortés, one of the event organizers, along with professors Jennifer Bernstein and Domingo Morel. “One of the things that we don’t usually talk about in a public forum is how the world has impacted our own homes, conversations with family members and how they’ve been triggered by these events. .”
“We have seen an arc since the murder of George Floyd,” added Cortés, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, and chairman of the Spanish and Portuguese department. “Conversations have been sparked by that and some have been hard conversations to have.”
Organizers hope that providing a space for the Rutgers-Newark community to explore these fault lines, and the historical forces behind them, can be transformational. “If you don’t have people with differing opinions, you can’t move forward,” said Bernstein, associate professor of graphic design and co-director of Visual Means and the Design Consortium at Express Newark. “There is a recognition that you have to be in those uncomfortable places to make changes. It’s actually crucial.”
The series is one of many events this year marking the 75and anniversary as a public institution, with a two-day symposium, workshops and a permanent digital platform for students and professors to share ideas, images and information. The site, created by Bernstein in collaboration with two of his design students, will become a collective archive, intended to nurture the dialogues sparked by live events and encourage collaboration, she said. Topics include gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, poverty and inequality, and immigration.
Events in the series include a panel on RU-N’s history of exclusion which will focus on student activism of the 1960s and 1970s, which was successful in leading the university to become more inclusive, and will discuss the remaining work. Programming dedicated to the university’s relationship with the city of Newark will include a conversation between Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Mayor Ras Baraka.
A panel discussion entitled “A Moment of Racial Reckoning” will examine the protest movement following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In this conversation, race and ethnicity scholars will place the demonstrations in historical context and discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
There will also be a panel on art, activism and dialogue which will focus on the ways in which creative practitioners from all disciplines address the societal divide.
Bernstein recognized the potential for such a series when two students in his design class had an emotional disagreement over social media involving the politics of identity. He pointed out that even in a diverse community like Rutgers-Newark, with a progressive mission, the same conflicts that were happening nationally were happening on campus.
“The main thing for me was to see how these two students, who were working on representation as a theme in our class, were missing each other’s point of view. Even among the students that you think are getting along, they don’t really have a dialogue, they don’t quite get there,” Bernstein said. “The platform we’ve created invites people with different perspectives to engage, listen, and ultimately gain new knowledge and understanding.”
Chancellor Cantor encouraged organizers to pursue the idea of a series exploring conflict for the 75andbirthday. “We decided that since RU-N has been a place where these types of difficult conversations have taken place, let’s take this moment to highlight that,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein, Morel and Cortés say their own approach to teaching has evolved in recent years as divisions of all types – ideological, economic and political – have emerged and deepened. “I tell students, we’re not talking about the 1920s and 1930s, we’re talking about now, you live everything we teach,” said Morel, an associate professor of political science. “We also want them to realize that this moment and this moment is different from others, there are different crises, different people around the table.”
The purpose of the project is not to bring people with opposing views together and come to a consensus or a solution, organizers said. “When you start out with the intention of trying to listen to all parties, the assumption is that everyone present is welcome,” Morel said. “Right now, we cannot exist with that assumption. Part of what is happening nationally is an attack on who owns. In my class, we can have different points of view, but one thing I won’t accept is making people feel like they don’t belong.’