SPS Today: The Voices of SPS | Sharing of Student Stories Facilitated
In an ever-changing world, where the climate can often be divisive, it perhaps has never been more important to understand and embrace difference. “With what’s going on in the world, it became increasingly obvious to us that we are in need of getting to know each other as a nation and as a world,” explains Vice Rector for School Life Theresa Ferns ’84, “and we need to start in our own community.”
This fall, Dr. Ferns worked with student leaders to formalize opportunities for students to share their experiences, sparking greater discussion in the community. The formation of the SPS Voices Advisory Board, composed of representatives from 11 student clubs and societies, represents a cross-section of distinct perspectives. Among the representatives are student leaders from the Christian fellowship, Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Hindu Society, Mental Illness Awareness Society, Muslim Student Association, Social Justice Group, Transitions, Young Democrats, Young Republicans, Young Men’s Club, and Young Women’s Club.
SPS Voices has previously been used in faculty training sessions and on Living in Community (LINC) Days for students. Dr. Ferns and others discovered that community members respond to hearing others’ lived experiences. Through the advisory board, Dr. Ferns will work with students to identify topics for discussion, and students who may be willing to share their voices on those subjects.
In the winter of 2017, SPS Voices helped educate the community during a LINC Day focused on mental health and sponsored by the Mental Illness Awareness Society. The day included a panel in Memorial Hall, where students shared personal stories about the impact of mental illness in their families. A similar student panel shared lived experiences as people of color in a spring LINC Day, while other students spoke in the spring to faculty about gender identity and sexual orientation. The faculty session kicked off a conversation that led to a student-initiated change in the Graduation procession, which had traditionally featured male and female students walking side-by-side. Beginning last spring, students will now process alphabetically at commencement.
In October, during Alumni Volunteer Weekend, Lark White ’19 (Christian Fellowship) and Josh Beirich ’19 (Young Republicans) sat on a panel in front of alumni and trustees to share their stories. “SPS Voices is all about listening,” says White. “Although conversation is vital in today’s climate, it can oftentimes lead one to be defensive, and the conversation turns into a debate. SPS Voices gives students the freedom to speak honestly and uninterrupted.”
Among the SPS Voices topics planned for upcoming events are socioeconomic diversity, activism, religious diversity, and the use of personal pronouns in the classroom. Part of the idea behind the student-driven discussions is to increase the engagement of the student body on these important issues. “With SPS Voices,” says Beirich, “the major clubs on campus can speak about what the students as a whole would want, and teach the [community] more about what it currently means to be a student at SPS.”