Welcome to CMU. The land of Blundstones, angry geese, using the word “community” as many times as possible, and endless conversation.
Let’s talk about just that: talking. The art of conversation here at CMU, radical dialogue, how important it is, and how much we value learning from each other, no matter our differences. The people that sit beside you in class, pass in the hallways, and sit with in the cafeteria, are all going to help shape your education here at CMU. They’re kinda like your professors, just without the PhDs.
Like I said before, CMU is a place of endless conversation. And it’s the conversations that I have had in the past two years that have filled in the gaps and rounded out the edges of my degree. Talking is important.
Your professors are a good place to start.
They are going to ignite little fires of curiosity within you, I guarantee it. You’re going to have questions, ideas, worries, inspirations, and your professors want to hear about them all! I’m not kidding! I have walked into countless profs offices to see their faces LIGHT UP when I come to sit and chat, and sometimes/a lot of times, it’s not related to a paper I’m writing or an upcoming test I have. It’s what’s going on inside my head, it’s about that little flame. And your profs want to help stoke that fire.
Your classmates are another great place to start up conversations. These will happen before class, during class, in the dining hall, at Marpeck Commons, in the dorms, at the bus stop, in the gym, I’ve had some good bathroom chats about Biblical Literature and that is not a word of a lie. Sometimes, these classmates won’t even be in the same class as you. I’ve had great conversations with friends who are taking philosophy classes, when I’ve never taken one in my life, and we’re talking about a communications topic from one of my classes, and we’re both enriching each others understanding of classes we don’t own the textbook for.
But here’s the thing—these conversations aren’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, you’re going to like pineapple on your pizza and the person you’re talking to won’t. This doesn’t mean they are wrong. Sometimes your prof will introduce you to an entirely new pizza that you’re not sure you’re comfortable with, or maybe even a calzone. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who’s never even had pizza. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And this is the part where the “radical” in “radical dialogue” comes in. And this is also, where LISTENING comes in.
If there’s one lesson that’s hit me the hardest while studying and living here at CMU, it’s this. THE WORDS I WILL LEARN THE MOST FROM WILL NOT BE MY OWN. The opinions and knowledge and experiences that I have are going to be wonderfully different than everyone else’s. And this is GOOD. Imagine if the keyboard on your laptop only had one letter. Let’s say H. You’re gonna know that letter really well, and that’s great. But all you’re going to be able to type is “Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.
If you really want to write, and think, and learn, you’re going to need so many more letters, so many more opinions and angles and pushback. So in the midst of these conversations you’ll be having, remember to listen. To really listen. Not just hear and wait for your turn to speak again. Listen and learn, respectfully.
I’m not saying that you should only listen and not speak, no no no. You also need to speak and share your unique perspectives so that others can learn from you. I’m talking to you self-professed “shy-kids”. We need you. You’re the best listeners so you’re obviously the smartest people in the room *wink wink*.
Thirdly, after we’re done talking, and we’re done listening, it’s time to engage. When I think about really engaging in radical dialogue, I think about my first year. I took an International Development course called “Voluntary Simplicity”. A classmate and good pal of mine got to talking during snack one evening about what we had learned in class, which led to us watching a documentary about fast-fashion and the clothing industry, which led us to making a pact that we would both refuse to buy any new clothes for an entire year. Just as an experiment. And we did it! Successfully! We talked about it with each other, with our professor, with our friends and family. It was like stepping into our textbook and frolicking amongst the words and ideas we’d been learning.
One of the best parts of CMU is the ability to have these conversations. The small class sizes, yet beautifully diverse student body has enriched and filled and blessed each and every class I’ve taken. At the beginning, it took a little work to let go of my biases and step out of my comfort zone. To shake hands with a new friend who doesn’t like pineapple on their pizza. But believe me, this radical dialogue you will engage in here at CMU is what will shape you for the better and help you to see the world with more compassion and empathy than ever before.
Chloe Friesen, 3rd-year Communications and Media student