The Citadel Encourages Diversity through Listening

Oct 25, 2018

It’s been a little more a than year since the Citadel started  its Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center.  One of the goals is to help the once all-male military college in Charleston acknowledge its history in perpetrating racism and continue to evolve into a more inclusive community.  The school is now holding what it calls CitListen sessions to encourage change through conversation.

“They’re designed to get people to interact with each other through personal story telling, deep intentional listening and connections across differences through our common humanity,” says Dr. J. Goosby Smith.  She’s an associate professor and Assistant Provost for Diversity Equity and Inclusion at the school.  She also helps lead the CitListen sessions with Dr. Larry G. Daniel, a professor and Dean of the Zucker Family School of Education.

The school recently held its first CitListen session in September, inviting members of the media to join faculty to see how it works.  Typically, groups of ten to twenty people come together to build trust and share personal reflections.  Much of it is based on stories. 

“Story to me means a piece of the journey and a piece of the path that I have walked to get me to this point,” say Dr. Goosby Smith.  “If you don’t understand my past, you won’t know who’s standing in front of you and you don’t understand my present or my future dreams.”

Group members agree to guidelines or touchstones as they’re called, before the session.  They are:   be present; listen deeply; share as much or as little as you like; don’t try to fix others; suspend judgment; identify assumptions; speak your truth; respect silence; maintain confidentiality; and when things get difficult, turn to wonder.

The session is guided by specific questions.  Some are personal, like share a time when you needed to have your voice heard.  Others are unusual, like if you could have any super power what would it be.  The media session was quite successful with members initially sharing laughs and then very personal stories, detailing struggles with sexual harassment, racial discrimination and bullying.  The conversations were surprisingly comfortable and full of empathy.

“People might say what does this CitListen session have to do with racial healing,” says Dr. Goosby Smith.  “But what it does have to do with is getting people across racial lines and across gender lines to interact as human beings and listen to each other.”

The school plans to hold such sessions with students, faculty and member of the community outside the Citadel throughout the year.

“You really don’t know a person until you hear their story,” says. Dr. Goosby Smith.  “We make all kinds of snap judgements about people, but you know a person until you hear their stories and share your own.”

The school was one of ten colleges selected and awarded a grant for its Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center.  Its community partners include the Charleston County School District, the Charleston YWCA, the Trident Urban League and the Charleston Police Department.  The program is expected to last three years and operates through the Association of American Colleges and Universities.