The fifth annual Husker Dialogues event has taken a new, virtual approach for encouraging conversation about diversity on campus among first-year Huskers.

On Sept. 10, 15, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m., first-year students will be introduced to the tools to help them engage in empathic, heartfelt conversations and create an inclusive community at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, according to UNL’s Diversity and Inclusion website.

“We want to help our Huskers to be better people,” Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor for Inclusive Student Excellence, said. “We believe there is no way for us to truly have an educational experience on our campus if we’re not talking to each other.” 

According to Foster, the Husker Dialogues staff had to pivot to make this event virtual instead of in-person.

“Our typical presentation of Husker Dialogues is to have people gather at the [Bob Devaney Sports Center] for the speeches to be given by the student speakers and to then hold conversation[s] on the track,” Foster said. 

Instead of student speakers delivering their stories to a crowd of around 4,000 students, the speeches have been recorded and edited to make them virtually accessible, Foster said. She said she is excited these changes have made the event easier to access for students.

“[Virtual changes] have allowed us to expand inclusivity because in the past there were folks who had meetings or jobs that kept them from being able to participate in the experience,” Foster said. “This way we are able to open the experience up to others.” 

In addition to adjustments for speakers, the student guides tasked with leading discussions during the event received training to match the current social and political climate, according to Foster.

“We wanted to make sure they’re prepared for this experience,” Foster said. “Typically a lot of our guides are upperclassmen, so we wanted to make sure they have the information to be able to reach out to students in a very comforting and respectful manner.”

Nick Monk, director of the Center for Transformative Teaching, said in an email it is important to have a safe space for students to discuss these sensitive and emotional topics.

“In our currently highly polarized political environment, it’s never been more important for us to model styles of dialogue that accommodate difference,” Monk said. “We want to offer open spaces where first-year students can share experiences and opinions in ways that are of mutual benefit.”

According to Foster, a case of differing opinions is an opportunity to learn how to be respectful and to have civil discourse.

“Every conversation is not supposed to be a debate where I change your mind to match my beliefs,” Foster said, “Instead, it's an opportunity for us to really hear each other and to understand where the other person is coming from.”

With assistance from a logistics team managing the aspects of Canvas and Zoom and student-led organizations like Jacht Ad Agency helping with marketing, Foster said she is hopeful that this year’s Husker Dialogues will be even more inclusive than in past years. 

“[Husker Dialogues] gives us the opportunity to teach our students so they can go away better and really skilled,” Foster said. “If we’re genuinely being nice we will take the time to listen, take the time to be kind and take the time to be respectful.”