Difficult Dialogue discusses issues of race and civility

Friday, October 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 30, 2009

The next forum on race and civility is Nov. 19. An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date.

COLUMBIA — MU Difficult Dialogues explored why race is so difficult to talk about Thursday night.

“I think the difficult thing is trying to talk objectively about something that can’t be talked about objectively,” MU senior Erin Horth, 20, said.

If you go

What: Town Hall and Community Dialogue

When: 6 to 8 p.m., Nov. 19

Where: Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center

For more information: Go to

The event, "Courageous Conversations about Race & Civility: A Dialogue for Everyone," was held Thursday night in the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, the second of a three-part discussion series.

“We’re not really taught to talk about race respectfully and productively,” MU sophomore Emily Luft, 19, said. “I think this event allows people a purposeful space and an opportunity to have this discussion.”

The Difficult Dialogues Initiative is a nationwide program designed to help higher education institutions handle tensions.

“I think a key element from this discussion series is that people recognize others who may have felt isolated see that they are not alone,” said David Mitchell, associate professor at the Missouri School of Law.

The town hall and panel discussion event consisted of five panelists who acted as a catalyst in opening the discussion on race through personal experiences and its impact on them. Participants were put in smaller discussion groups to try to have honest conversations about race.

“We have to go beyond the scripts and fear that life and society has placed in front of us in order to have a real honest conversation about race,” Mitchell said. “You can have passion and emotion but still listen and have an honest conversation about race and still remain civil."

Open discussion about why race is difficult to talk about and how to address these issues within the community followed the small group discussions.

Fear of being misunderstood, alienation, not having the right vocabulary and talking about a topic that is often times heavy with emotion were some of the reasons participants found race a difficult topic.

MU folklore and film instructor LuAnn Roth, a panel member, said it was important for people to use the conversation as a springboard for future discussions or actions to help break down biases people harbor.

“Every conversation we have about race helps us gain a better understanding of society,” Luft said.

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