A Conversation on Human Rights and Standing Together

By Eliza Partika

UCI’s New Narratives: Conversations on Identity and Culture series continued Jan. 19 with a roundtable discussion titled, “In Search of Our Humanity: Finding Common Ground in the Midst of Political Divisiveness.”

The discussion covered various contested social, political and economic topics, including misogyny and womxn’s rights, anti-Semitism, homelessness, free speech on campus, anti-blackness and white supremacy, transgender rights and transphobia, homophobia and LGBTQA+ rights, the media’s role in the 2016 election, the US’s role in international affairs, guns and second amendment rights, and the role of the electoral college, among others.

However, the topics of discussion were secondary to encouraging participants to “find enough common ground so that we might more comfortably enter into uncomfortable discussions,” said Jade Agua, Director of UCI’s Cross Cultural Center and organizer of the event.

In his introductory speech, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham said, “we are challenged by our own sensibility, as hard as it may be, to find a common denominator that cannot be divided.”

The discussion began with a series of general questions asking small group members “what they value most in life,” “what they are hopeful about for the future” and “their biggest fears.” According to Agua, the in-depth icebreakers were designed to help audience members find deeper commonalities and thus foster a more profound and relevant discussion in their chosen topic.

Each table discussion at the event was facilitated by faculty members from diverse corners of UCI, with the entire event facilitated by Agua and Dr. Parham.

Tamara Austin, facilitator for the table discussing misogyny and womxn’s rights and Director of the Womxn’s Space here on campus, imparted words of advice to her other table members. From discussing gendered colors to discussing how as a father, the best thing you can do to for your daughter is to treat the other women in your life well, to defining the ways in which women sometimes contribute to their own gender roles through subconscious things like being more hesitant to take risks, to general life lessons, the discussion was “eye-opening,” according to a humanities major attending the event who preferred to remain anonymous.

Participants said that they found common humanity with one another, not necessarily because of shared experiences, but because they were open-minded and willing to empathize and listen to others’ stories.  Dr. Parham advocated this sort of willingness to discover common values and mutual humanity in the closing full participant discussion. First he found one commonality between everyone in the audience, the value of family.

“What does family look like?” he asked in reference to each of the discussion topics. “Advocating for one another. That’s what family does.”

Lastly he asked the audience for their post-discussion commitments toward finding commonalities.

“Keep hope and joy,” a participant at the table for anti-blackness and white supremacy offered. “While happiness is circumstantial, to have joy is to come together as family.”

Another participant added that they had committed to “being more open-minded, gaining knowledge and new perspectives.”

At the event’s culmination, Dr. Parham urged audience members to become family in the potentially politically divisive times to come.

“We are in search of common ground; that’s the peace that gives me hope.”