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MSU's Residential Colleges Host Teach-In/Learn-In: Building a Just MSU

The MSU community was deeply were deeply shaken by Nassar's victim's statements. Although Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison, many Spartans remain affected by the deeply problematic culture and flawed institutional structures that allowed him to operate.

In order to help begin the healing process and build a fundamentally different MSU, "a more just MSU," the University's three residential colleges — James Madison College (JMC), Lyman Briggs College (LBC), and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) — banded together to host a Teach-in/Learn-in on February 27th. The event, held in the MSU Union Ballroom, was organized by Dr. Megan Halpern (LBC and RCAH), Alyse Collins (LBC), Eric Aronoff (RCAH), Tama Hamilton-Wray (RCAH), Sharlissa Moore (JMC), and Linda Sayed (JMC), and was attended by students, staff, alumni, and faculty from these three (and many more) colleges.

"In our shared distress over decisions made without our input, in our shared expressions of no confidence, we have learned that what confidence we lack in the people on the fourth floor of the Hannah Administration building, we find in each other," said LBC and RCAH faculty member Dr. Megan Halpern.

Dr. Tama Hamilton-Wray
Dr. Dr. Tama Hamilton-Wray speaks to the attendees in the opening session

The Teach-In/Learn-In allowed students, faculty, staff, and alumni to share stories, ask and answer questions, and take the first steps toward building a better MSU.

"It was important for RCAH, JMC, and LBC to collaborate and plan the '3R Teach-In/Learn-In: Building a More Just MSU' because our communities felt deep concern for the sexual assault survivors whose voices had been silenced for so long and we had many questions about institutional failings," said Tama Hamilton-Wray, assistant professor in RCAH and one of the coordinators of the event. "Further, we were seeking to increase our knowledge base, support coalition building, and encourage grassroots activism."

According to Dr. Halpern, "A teach-in is an act of protest. It is a moment where we disrupt the daily business of teaching and learning because we recognize that business has already been disrupted. We can't go on about our day as though these things aren't happening on our campus, nor can we continue to accept the culture in which they are happening."

Dr. Dylan Miner, Director of the American Indian Studies Program and Associate Professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, began the event by recognizing the indigenous peoples on whose land MSU stands. In the opening session, Organization and Individual Change Catalyst M. Carmen Lane spoke with attendees about respectful communication. Lane's workshop emphasized the importance of open dialogue and feedback given responsibly, asking attendees "How do you show trust and care in both listening and speaking?"

Dr. Mark Largent
Dr. Mark Largent leads a discussion on university power structures

After Lane's workshop, the event split into a series of breakout sessions. Attendees could chose from previously scheduled sessions, or create their own if they found that there was no session addressing their concerns.

Sessions included a Trauma Informed Care Workshop led by the Firecracker Foundation, a student-led discussion about giving students a bigger voice in university decision-making, and a workshop centered around consent. Attendees discussed topics from the authority and influence of tenured faculty to the reasons athletics often trump academics. Licensed counselors and student support groups were available throughout the day to provide attendees with a space for self care and decompression.

LBC's Interim Dean Mark Largent led one breakout session, entitled "Who's in Charge Here?: MSU's Formal Power Structures." Speaking from years of experience within the upper university administration, Largent talked with participants about the complex power structures within MSU and how to help lead positive change.

Dr. Dylan Miner
Dr. Dylan Miner assists a student with screenprinting

Throughout the event, Dr. Dylan Miner ran a studio workshop focused on designing for social justice. Participants learned basic strategies for making art and graphic design focused on social movements. The workshop also provided a space for attendees to learn basic screen printing and create t-shirts using a pre-prepared screen.

"I thought the organizers did an excellent job," said Dr. Lisa Biggs, an RCAH faculty member. "The conversations I was part of were robust and thought provoking. I hope that students, faculty, staff, and administrators walked away with many things to mull over, and some concrete next steps. Changing the culture at MSU is going to take some time, but it needs to happen to ensure everyone gets the quality education they deserve."

At the conclusion of the breakout sessions, Lane returned to the podium to discuss next steps. Participants from the breakout sessions shared thoughts, realizations, and ideas that came from their sessions. Lane focused largely on not only the take-aways from each session, but particularly on the actionable items. Attendees were encouraged to use their newfound knowledge to take action wherever they could, saying "change isn't about fixing, because the damage has been done. It's about what we can do differently next time."

The final event of the evening was a panel discussion entitled "Building Community, Resisting Hate." In the context of Richard Spencer's visit to MSU, faculty from across campus discussed the dangers posed by the alt-right movement and the importance of building community in difficult times.

Dr. Halpern hopes that the attendees left the Teach-in/Learn-in feeling encouraged to ask questions and take action. "A teach-in is an act of protest that reorients us toward inquiry," she said. "It asks us to use the best tools we have at an institution of higher learning: our creative and critical thinking, our collaborative and discursive skills, and the wealth of our combined knowledge, to look deeply and thoughtfully at how we got here, and where we go next."

In the wrap up session, many attendees spoke up about their personal revelations and new ideas for create change on campus. MSU student Katie Muczynski tweeted that the event left her "feeling not only informed, but also empowered."

Dr. Hamilton-Wray hopes to keep the momentum from the event. "Building on the knowledge and energy coming out of the Teach-In/Learn-In, RCAH intends to hold one to two additional colloquiums by the end of this spring semester. RCAH students will take the lead on these future college colloquiums that will be specifically tailored to the concerns and needs of the RCAH community."