2021 NASPA Virtual Conference

NASPA’s Newest Programming Addition: Community Dialogue Series & Community Circles

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A Star is Born: Co-creating the Community Dialogue Series 

When the 2021 NASPA Annual Conference Leadership Committee convened for its first in-person meeting in November 2019, I had little to no preconceived ideas of what our planning meetings would be like. After all, I had never been on a conference leadership committee and I had not attended a NASPA Annual Conference. During breakfast of our first full-day meeting, I could feel the excitement and energy of the room as the committee members informally mingled and introduced themselves to one another. As our meeting commenced and we began thinking through the forces that are shaping the field of student affairs, none of us could fathom the changes that our community would be going through before 2021 came around. We could only glimpse into the future through what we knew already: an election year was upon us, changes in the political stability of particular regions of the world could be consequential, and the changing landscape of racial issues could deepen given the current administration. With these in mind, we forged ahead energetically through our three-day meeting in Kansas City.

Being newer to the NASPA experience, I was the only person on our committee who had never attended an Annual Conference. Although I feared that my lack of conference attendance could impact my contribution at the meeting, the committee’s encouragement and support gave me a sense of belonging and inclusion. Given my experiences as a first-generation college student and having worked in literacy programs within communities of color and with youth, I had been thinking about how this conference could have a more participatory approach. How could the participants feel ownership of their participation and learning? How could they be active agents of change while attending various workshops and sessions? And how could the participants draw inspiration post-conference? I posed these questions to the committee members. This took us down a path of questioning and problem-posing in our Kansas City meeting. 

Hours of discussion led to a beautiful creation: a new addition to NASPA’s programming that we titled Community Dialogue Series. We collectively agreed that this new programming element could give time and space for participants to be actively engaged in various content areas and to generate knowledge through their participation. While CDS would serve as a large group speaker session, smaller groups called Community Circles would follow the speaker sessions to allow participants to discuss the content presented in the larger sessions in an intimate setting. 

How will CDS be different than other educational programming at the conference? For one, we were determined to use a liberatory pedagogy. I had been in awe of Paulo Freire’s work on Pedagogy of the Oppressed since grad school and introduced the concepts of Freire’s liberatory pedagogy to the committee. In liberatory education, the teacher is also a learner and avoids a banking-model of education. They draw on the participants' lived experiences, ask problem-posing questions, and authentically learn together with the participants (or students). While many conference workshops try to engage participants after some sort of a lecture-style presentation, CDS will focus largely on participants’ contributions and generating knowledge and action with them. 

Vision and Freirean Framework

Thankful for Yasi’s initial idea of utilizing Freire’s Cultural Circles framework to guide the Community Dialogue Series development, I was instantly attracted to leading this endeavor. Innovative, inclusive, and groundbreaking, this CDS subcommittee has the potential for greatness, and I wanted to help co-lead this effort. When bringing my own Indigenous - specifically Cherokee and Muscogee - paradigm to this work, I envisioned the culture circles like sharing or talking circles. In my culture, this is how we gather to make space for each other to share what’s heavy on our mind. Usually, an eagle feather is passed around and whoever holds it has the floor for as long as they would like. As Freire was a major influencer in my graduate school education as a first-generation, Indigenous student, and professional work as a student affairs professional working with and for communities of color, I was immediately drawn to developing this new series. I saw an opportunity to collectively create real change and action within NASPA. 

According to Freire (1970), a circle is created in an attempt to provide pedagogical spaces in which students can develop their voices in a human environment of respect and affirmation. Eye contact among the learners is important, as it can capture the curiosity and imagination of students. The teacher must also consider a change in discourse patterns and views of authority, knowledge, curriculum, and learning. A culture circle does not evolve simply by having students sit in a circle. The challenge for the educator is to provide a focus and follow-up questions without dismissing the voices of participants in the dialogue. This practice promotes the notion that the curriculum should be dynamic, always in construction, and responding to the needs of the learners. Inclusive of participant life experiences, the facilitator recognizes that participants can only make new meanings based upon prior understandings anchored in the organic nature of their knowing. 

Consequently, the Community Dialogue Series offers opportunities for facilitators to structure the circle in a way that includes non-Western paradigms, epistemologies, and ontologies. I know this is very exciting, as in my own research and practice, I push back on Westernized notions of research and have asserted my own Cherokee epistemology, and utilized Indigenous methodologies and conceptual frameworks. Having space at NASPA to do this will be really empowering, and will move us a step further toward a truly inclusive approach that will hopefully produce actionable outcomes. 

Taking from the four focus areas of the conference, we will have speaker(s) for each one as part of the Community Dialogue Series, and then offer more focused and diverse perspectives on each major topic in smaller Community Circle spaces (see graphic). Our hopes are that from these circles, some action elements can be produced to challenge our institutions and NASPA toward more equitable practices and outcomes.

Apply To Be A Community Circle Facilitator

If this sounds exciting to you and you have an important perspective to share on one of the four overarching focus areas, please submit your application to serve as a Community Circle facilitator. Applications open November 2, and remain open until December 11, 2020. Facilitator training will occur in January.

Apply to be a Community Circle Facilitator
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