The University of New Orleans’ Cultural Conversations Series, hosted by the Student Activities Council, is known on campus for providing content to students that is educational, intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking, and now—award-winning.
The series has won the coveted Outstanding Diversity Achievement Award, administered by the National Association for Campus Activities. The cultural conversations occur roughly once a month during the semester and are a means to open discussion and foster awareness about hard-hitting topics that are relevant to the student climate.
The goal of these conversations is not only to enlighten people of specific topics pertaining to university life, but also have different opinions or arguments heard in order to educate and create dialogue about these complex issues that are faced every day on college campuses across the country.
“There are three parts that are the main components of the series: we start with sharing information,” said LeeAnne Sipe, Assistant Director of Student Involvement & Leadership at UNO. “From there we launch into reactions and conversations. We end with action items: ‘What do we do from here?’ ‘How do we keep this conversation going outside this room?’”
“That’s kind of our drive: educate, process and do something.”
The series has evolved over the years from a few different approaches, from casual discussions to even a more formal debate session. Eventually, the SAC settled on the award-winning formula they have now—to not only discuss, but “unpack” the topic as well.
“We have to engage with that diversity and talk about it. It doesn’t mean anything to be a diverse campus if you’re not engaging,” Sipe explained, adding that a goal of these open-forum discussions is to have students become more cognizant of their role on such a diverse campus. “The Cultural Conversations is a way to unpack that.”
“It’s just our way of helping people engage in a deeper level, if they’re interested.”
In 2012, the series tentatively began as a response to social injustice displayed in the news, sparked by the Trayvon Martin case. However, Sipe said “the response had been so positive” from the students in attendance that it has blossomed into a series of topics now nationally-recognized for its commitment to diverse thought.
“To be selected amongst 900 schools as having an outstanding commitment for diversity is really affirming—particularly working with our students—they put in so much effort with being thoughtful and intentional behind these conversations. It just means a lot to be recognized nationally for the work they do.”
“I’m hoping through this [award] we can expand the program even more,” Sipe said.
Sipe said the SAC is potentially looking to expand the program, following the national recognition and increased student and faculty interest.
“Right now we do the cultural conversations once a month, but this may be an opportunity to do
them more often and find other ways to engage in these conversations, because we’re doing a good thing, and people are interested in it.”
The next topic in the series centers on the theme of love, which is slated for Wednesday, Feb. 15.
For more information on past conversations in the series or for other SAC events, connect with the council online or attend a weekly general meeting. General meetings are every Monday at 4:30 pm in the University Center, Room 208.