For 25 years, the UVU Center for Social Impact (CSI) has been actively looking for ways to empower students, faculty and community partners through volunteerism, service-learning courses and on-campus events. One of these events is their monthly “Real Talk” round table discussion.
Real Talk is a civil dialogue series where attendees can partake in in-depth discussions on topics ranging from immigration to mental health. The series uses participants’ experiences and viewpoints to drive these conversations in a completely neutral and unbiased space.
Christian Fullmer, a senior biology major, is the student coordinator who oversees the dialogue series. He says that the intention of Real Talk is to promote discussions by bringing together people from opposite ends of controversial topics.
“When people listen to each other and have humanizing experiences, they see each other in a different light,” said Fullmer.
The center’s intention for Real Talk is to provide a safe space in which healthy conversations about taboo topics can happen. Fullmer adds that the meetings are only effective, however, if people feel safe and free from biases or judgements when sharing their thoughts.
“The potential for impact in a moderated environment where personal attacks are not allowed can humanize people who may have never heard a certain perspective and see a person, with that perspective, as a person, and not as a statistic,” said Fullmer. “We are trying to make it a brave space for them.”
Some of the safe space rules in place at Real Talk include avoiding generalizations about others’ beliefs, not interrupting others while they are talking, not criticizing any comments or opinions and listening with patience when something is hard to hear. These rules are set at the beginning of each session by the meeting facilitator.
Junior business management major Josh Otterson is the president of the Service Council at the CSI. He works alongside student coordinators, such as Fullmer, assisting in the planning and organization of these monthly discussions.
Otterson says that in addition to bringing social change, one big focus for Real Talk this year is getting students in various on campus organizations more engaged in these discussions.
“It’s a big focus for us this year — to collaborate with different groups and clubs on campus,” Otterson said. “There are 150 clubs at UVU and they all have a lot of interest in these kinds of topics.”
Previous discussion topics include the Black Lives Matter movement, veteran affairs, sex trafficking, illiteracy, cyberbullying and activism.
Summer Valente, the current director of the CSI, has been a long-time advocate for social change. Working as COO for United Way of Utah County, prior to working for the university, she developed strategies and educational initiatives to help her community.
She says that having a program such as Real Talk available on campus is a great tool to not only drive the center’s overall mission, but to also encourage students to have thought processes and viewpoints of their own.
“Students should be able to decide what to do with their lives,” Valente said. “We want [students] to examine their beliefs and not just adopt their parents’ politics.”
Upcoming discussion topics include homelessness, sexual assault awareness, religious freedom, poverty, education and hunger.
Held on the second Wednesday of every month, Real Talk sessions take place on the bottom floor of the Sorensen Center across from the Grande Ballroom, where food is provided and all are welcome to attend.
Photo courtesy of UVU Marketing Dept.