Community Conversations Offer Safe Space For Exchanging Ideas

By: Alison Fromme
Professor John Doris sits on a stool with arms outstretched in front of a red wall with the text

Professor John Doris led a discussion about ethics and current events on April 12.

A group of 20 students gathered in Warren Hall’s “Collaboration Zone” to discuss ethics and current events with John Doris, the Peter L. Dyson Professor of Ethics in Organizations and Life in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, on April 12. The conversation was part of the “Food for Thought Series,” a program launched in the fall of 2023 by Jennifer Majka, founding director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Dyson School, in the SC Johnson College of Business.

“These community conversations are intended to destigmatize lived experiences and offer the chance to address controversial topics,” Majka said. “And they ultimately strengthen the sense of community and belonging at Dyson. Everyone is welcome.”

Amaya Haye speaks with her right hand outstretched, palm up.
Amaya Haye ’26 shares her perspective.

The series creates a safe space for discussion and also supports the university’s freedom of expression theme, said Majka. At each event, different Dyson Faculty Fellows for Inclusive Excellence moderate exchanges on wide-ranging topics, from mental health and sexual assault, to LGBTQ+ issues, religion, race, and more.

“Research indicates that faculty-student contact outside the classroom is empirically associated with multiple positive outcomes,” Majka said. “Students are more likely to graduate, perform better academically, and find greater satisfaction with their college experience.”

During the conversations, faculty fellows often engage with students from places of vulnerability and authenticity, Majka said. “When students get to know faculty outside the classroom, they get to know them as real people, breaking down the power distance barrier.”

At the April 12 event, Doris began by asking students if they had heard about OJ Simpson’s death, and they responded by sharing their understanding of the 1994-5 trial, the surrounding media attention, and related issues of race and domestic violence. Then Doris built on the issues raised, asking students if they had ever had first-hand encounters with police. Next, he waited.

“One thing I’ve found with teaching is that I’ve become used to uncomfortable silences,” he told the students.

After a brief pause, many students shared their experiences: being pulled over while driving, reporting crimes against them, immigrating to the US to escape religious persecution, and feeling safe or unsafe in different situations. The wide-ranging conversation also ventured into ethical issues raised by movies, sports, cancel culture, and business sustainability efforts.

Afterward, Haley Lukas, JD/MBA ’26, said, “It’s nice to see professors in other spaces outside their classrooms, get out of my building, and hear different perspectives across campus.”

“It’s not about what students get out of the conversations, but instead what they give,” said Doris, also professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences. “They have a chance to connect and be heard. With all the strife in the news, here we have a group of people sharing their thoughts, and that’s a joy to see.”