Matthew J. Walker
Important issues to students and faculty will be addressed in discussion form via Critical Conversations, a series of panel discussions that will be held by members of the college each month for the foreseeable future.
The first panel was on Jan. 29 and covered the topic of food insecurity. The idea for the Critical Conversations series is the brainchild of Julian Helmer, a reference instructor librarian at Pierce College.
Helmer based Critical Conversations off a program at Seattle Central College, where he previously worked. College leaders there held Conversations on Social Issues, a similar series of discussions. After being involved with these discussions, he believed the panels strengthened the community.
“I assisted on (Conversations on Social Issues) when I worked there and I kind of wanted to bring that here,” Helmer said, “because it did really foster a great sense of community in the college and the surrounding area.”
According to Helmer, the current plan is to hold a panel on a particular issue on the last Wednesday of each month, but this is subject to change. His hope is to have both students and faculty participate in each discussion.
“As far as joining in, I really wanted it to be a free and open to all situations,” Helmer said, “and so it’s my hope that we’ll get a mix of students, and of faculty, and of community members coming into it.”
He placed emphasis on this, stating that he wanted to avoid having discussions amongst only students or only faculty. He wanted it to be an open-dialogue for anyone on the Pierce College campus.
“There’s oftentimes places for those conversations just among students, or faculty have our in-service days where we’re having those conversations by our- selves,” said Helmer, “but I really wanted to see what that looks like when all the groups of community members are having those conversations.”
Helmer further detailed the goal of these monthly discussions, saying he wanted to provide a voice for everyone on campus.
“I want students, faculty and staff to feel that their opin- ions and their voices are valued in these conversations.” He said. “A lot of times faculty are sort of seen as the subject expert on something, when in fact every single person at the college—no matter what position they’re in—are bringing their own life experience, knowledge and what they’ve learned into the room.”
Jonas Upman, an economic mobility coordinator at AmeriCorps, hosted the panel for the first discussion. Upman’s goal with this panel was to educate the community on the subject of food insecurity.
He defined food insecurity as an issue that many people who can’t afford food due to poverty, time constraints or other factors, suffer from.
He believed that the discussions will be good for Pierce and the community at large.
“I really like how the Critical Conversations pieces are trying to bring in the wider community into Pierce College,” said Upman, “and trying to create those connections between students and community members.”
“Part of my position at Pierce College is to alleviate poverty as part of the AmeriCorps program,” said Upman, “and food insecurity is right up that alley.”
Upman was invited by Helmer to play a big role in the first discussion. Upman’s main goal was to shed light on the topic of food insecurity, the scale of the effect it has on the community and the relief that’s offered by local food banks. Both Helmer and Upman mentioned that Critical Conversations is open to the campus community.
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