The Town Meeting

Since I've been here at Indian Springs there have been three "Town Meetings" that have fallen outside the ordinary model of announcements and updates from commissioners—with the occasional student reflection. These outliers have resembled more closely, I think, the Town Meetings that used to happen at Springs when students wanted to talk about an issue that mattered to the community.  

The first was held right after the election of President Donald Trump, and it gave us a chance to hear from students directly in what was a very raw moment for many of them. The students who spoke were feeling and thinking such a wide range of feelings and ideas that in order to be a community we needed simply to be together, listening to one another generously.  

I have followed up that meeting with a series of smaller gatherings where those conversations have continued, and these have filled me with much-needed hope. Not long ago I had lunch with a joint meeting of the Springs Young Democrats and Young Republicans; in speaking with their leaders, it is clear they want both to find common ground and to be more informed by coming into contact with differences of opinion. I think many of these colloquies can trace their origins to that Town Meeting in November. 

The second meeting was last week, when Mayor Dewey Wilbanks called us together to discuss the role of privilege in light of recent random acts of disrespect. Dewey framed the conversation as a way to start "unpacking our privilege" and understanding the ways we take for granted our levels of access to the world, and comfort with ourselves in relation to others. 

 Spring 2017 Mayor Dewey Wilbanks '17 at a Town Meeting in March

Spring 2017 Mayor Dewey Wilbanks '17 at a Town Meeting in March

I am always very proud of the students who rise and come to the microphone in these forums: It takes lots of courage not only to decide to share a thought, but also to try to fit that thought into the larger discussion in a way that makes sense. While this can certainly be challenging, that day I was impressed with students for trying, and with their classmates for showing them respect in a vulnerable moment.

It also became clear to me that we need to make room for more of these gatherings, so they can be what I have heard they used to be and have the potential to be again: time and space where students engage their intellects and passions, in real time, to address things they care about. So far, every student's attempt to voice complicated and potentially combustible ideas in this public way has been genuine and fervent: two very good things for a student to be.

Finally, these meetings should be opportunities to approach together what is on our minds, and to go beyond shallow mention of fundamental questions (e.g., what should a respectful community look like?) to a place of deeper collective understanding. And as a happy byproduct, we will know each other better. We're fortunate that we get to do this—we have command of our time in ways other institutions do not. So, students: Care, try hard, and bring your whole self to the trying—be genuine and fervent. If you'll do that, I promise we’ll continue to expand the time, space, and substance of Town Meetings to make more room for your voices in deeper conversation.