The “Power of Words” ignites conversation

CU students, faculty and staff are all coming together to converse about issues like race, gender and sexuality for the Dennis Small Cultural Center’s weekly “Power of Words” series.

The Power of Words series is a weekly series for the Dennis Small Cultural Center. (CU Independent Illustration/Robert R. Denton)

The DSCC’s Culture Sip program organizes the events, which focus on the impact and influence certain words have on a society when used to describe or characterize a person or group.

According to the center’s website, the DSCC serves “underrepresented student groups” and “the campus community as a whole by providing opportunities to enhance cultural awareness and celebrate diversity.”

Mira Winograd, Culture Sip’s event planner, said that the center serves to promote the exchange of student perspectives on sensitive issues.

“The mission behind this is to facilitate dialogue, to talk about issues that aren’t usually talked about in the real world,” Winograd said. “This is a safe place to discuss these things.”

About 25 people gathered in the DSCC on Thursday for the latest “Power of Words” installment, “The N Word.” Before the discussion began, guidelines including honesty and to “seek first to understand, then be understood” were established to ensure the environment was respectful.

Throughout the course of an hour, members of the CU community of all ages opened up about their opinions and experiences regarding the use of the “n-word.”

Elle Dominski, graduate student and CUSG diversity director, was the discussion leader for the installment and said that she chose to refer to the “n-word” as “blank.”

“To me, ‘blank’ is a frightening word, and it makes me uncomfortable,” Dominski said. “I want to talk about the idea of how this word is used, and how it can render someone powerful or powerless in different contexts.”

People in the room began to open up, and they reached a general conclusion that the widespread discomfort felt by the campus community, regarding the word, came from its origin as a term of hatred. Some students shared how because words can be defined by culture and society, even once it evolves into something else, it still has the roots from its original usage and meaning.

Erin Dewese, the UMC’s coordinator for Cultural Programs, said that the lack of a forum in educational settings for discussions about sensitive language and social issues was the reason behind the decision to hold the “Power of Words” events.

“The [complexity surrounding] the ‘n-word’ sparked the idea to have this series in the first place,” Dewese said. “What is seen as okay to talk about, and what’s not? How do we make people care about an issue like this, and engage in dialogue?”

Kelly Brichta, an 18-year-old freshman environmental studies major, was one of the students who participated in the discussion. Brichta said she was inspired to attend the event by her honors seminar, which encourages meeting people, going out and learning different perspectives.

“I really enjoyed hearing everyone’s opinions,” Brichta said. “It was especially great being amongst other ages. The diversity of the group made [the conversation] much more relevant.”

Culture Sip and the DSCC representatives say they plan to continue bringing all-inclusive events to campus that represent and celebrate the CU community. They also say they want to continue to create events that take on important social issues affecting the student body.

“We have to start talking about things,” Dewese said. “We have to talk about why we act and say the things we do.”

The next “Power of Words” event, “What a B!*$#,” will be held on Thursday, Nov. 3 from 4 to 5 p.m. in UMC 457.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Annie Melton at anne.melton@colorado.edu.

Annie Melton

Annie is a senior news-editorial journalism major. She spends most of her free time following politics obsessively, listening to music and missing good barbecue from her hometown of Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @meltonannie1

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