Race activist to speak on empathy and dialogue at ENVS symposium

By Mado Hayes

Race activist and musician Daryl Davis will be speaking at Lewis & Clark’s 21st annual Environmental Studies Symposium on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The theme of the symposium is Environment Across Boundaries and will include Davis’s keynote speech and musical performance, followed by a reception in the foyer. A luncheon with Davis will be held on Oct. 24 at 12 p.m. in Thayer Room in Templeton.

“One of the things that we are interested in doing as an environmental studies program is getting people to think more expansively and inclusively about what constitutes environment,” Environmental Studies Professor Elizabeth Safran said. “Certain traditional views of environment can limit the types of solutions that we seek to environmental problems and they can limit participation in engaging with those problems. So, part of what we’re trying to do is to get people to think more broadly, and that requires crossing boundaries.”

Daryl Davis is well-known for engaging in conversation with members of the KKK.

“We were particularly impressed by [Davis’s] courageous willingness to engage across difference,” Safran said. “The approach that he’s taken to ask questions and listen is something that we’re very interested in environmental studies.”

Although Davis’s work has not been related to environmental studies, his method of communication can be applied to any field, which is why he is being invited to speak at the symposium. Davis uses a dialogic approach, which is one of the communication models that ENVS students learn about.

“The dialogic model emphasizes listening and empathy as a way to talk to people and actually get them to change their perspectives,” ENVS major Christopher Plechot Binder ’21 said. “It is much more about creating a dialogue and even putting a lot of the emphasis on the person who you’re speaking to because it’s very important to hear what people have to say and what is informing their perspective.”

ENVS major Heather Shaw ’20 said that the ENVS major is focused more on ways of thinking and approaching situations than on specific concepts.

“I think what environmental studies is aiming towards is being able to have people engage in more thoughtful ways and create conversation,” Shaw said. “It’s more about the big picture.”

Plechot Binder said that he encourages other students to attend the symposium just to hear Davis speak.

“I think he deserves to have the Lewis & Clark community really listen to him, and hopefully come away from his talk with a new understanding of what it means to listen to people and to have empathy for them,” Plechot Binder said. “We can all benefit from that, regardless of your major.”

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