Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

In an effort to promote a culture of belonging and acceptance on campus, the Office of the President and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion are introducing the Good Neighbor Challenge. Over the course of the school year, students will be presented with opportunities to grow in empathy and awareness and take on the challenge of being a good neighbor through curated events, seminars and speakers.

            From September to March, students and faculty will have the chance to participate in workshops, civic conversations facilitated by a trained leader and attend a Diversity and Inclusion event. These events have been created to cover all spectrums, yet the idea behind each event is the same: promoting radical empathy.

“A big part of the Good Neighbor Challenge has been sort of putting all of these events together and sort of packaging them so that [you can add] whatever framework you would want to add to it, it’s still all about being a good neighbor,” President Steve Briggs said “We want to help people to see if you attend a series of dinner conversations, a series of Solidarity Week events, some other activities, cumulatively over time, those build the culture and community that we want to have.”

The week of September 18-22 is Solidarity Week, a part of the Good Neighbor challenge promoting unity and solidarity across all demographics.  The week will be filled with events and speakers who are seeking to create awareness and empathy within the student body. These events include topics like the struggles of ethnic and racial minorities, inclusive sexual health, practicing resiliency and there is also a multi-faith gathering that welcomes people of all faith to come and share how they practice being a good neighbor.

            “This week is really about all of us coming to the table with open minds and a willingness to really learn about experiences,” sophomore and Good Neighbor participant Brandin Carter said. “Solidarity Week isn’t just about learning about race and ethnicity and things like that, but really just about how we’re all different but still part of the same Berry College that we love.”

There are two tracks within the Good Neighbor Challenge that students, staff and faculty can choose to engage in: leader and participant. For the leaders, this means facilitating a civic conversation, being trained at The King Center’s “Be Love” training, attending a Solidarity Week event, and engaging in a Diversity and Inclusion event, much like the participants.

“It’s a really great opportunity to step into leadership and be a part of these civic discussions,” assistant professor of history Kelsey Rice, a leader in the Good Neighbor Challenge, said. “All the training that leaders receive works to help them not only to grow as leaders and learn about what it means to really have radical empathy, but also to be able to share that concept with the people they’re going to lead, especially with the civic conversations.” 

Civic conversations will consist of six sessions with topics like belonging, intersectionality, common ground, allyship, bridging racial divides and inclusive culture. These will be facilitated by the Good Neighbor Challenge leaders. Two of these will be Good Neighbor campus dinners and the rest of these events will be scheduled once a month at the discretion of a leader. 

“The civic conversations will be a really big part of the Good Neighbor challenge,” Carter said. “People have to go in with their minds open and their mouths shut really, because those are all about learning from people who may have different experiences than you or people that can teach you something.”

The training from the King Center is a nationally recognized program that works to promote non-violence, being loving individuals, and helping answer questions of identity and purpose. 

“The program really emphasizes the purpose of the Good Neighbor challenge,” Rice said. “It puts a big emphasis on the idea of radical empathy, being tolerant of people who may be different than you, and really just being loving people.”

Another part of the leadership program is attending one of the eight workshops. These training sessions include but are not limited to a Christian-based session that takes a look at racial history on college campuses, a session that works to promote a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ population, and a workshop that emphasizes the necessity of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. 

“The workshops are mainly about learning how to empathize with others, even if you can’t fully identify with them,” Rice said. “They’re going to be a good growth opportunity and I’m really looking forward to them.”

All of these training sessions for the leaders will prepare them to guide the participants through the challenge, whether those be civic conversations or just representing the challenge as an advocate for radical empathy. Participants will also be attending the solidarity events, participating in a workshop and experiencing a diversity and inclusion event.

“[We hope] to build solidarity around those groups of folks who are saying we need to draw attention to certain issues,” Briggs said. “Our nation is struggling, we’re struggling locally, and even on campus there’s a struggle to some extent that we hope Solidarity Week will emphasize. In a way, Solidarity Week is just a part of helping us think ‘how can I be a good neighbor every week?’”

According to Briggs, the challenge is about realizing anyone who is struggling or in need is a neighbor that one should be able to empathize with, recognizing their needs and identifying a way that those needs can be met. The Good Neighbor Challenge is not just an on campus challenge, but will teach the Berry population to be a good neighbor, both at Berry and beyond. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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