April 11, 1997 · Cavalier Daily

Fishbowl Frankness

The Fishbowl Discussions, sponsored by First-Year Council and featuring student speakers, provide a forum in which students discuss issues of gender and sexuality. The writer marvels at the candor the discussions promoted among students, and argues that the Student Council should consider implementing a similar program permanently.


1997-04-11 Cavalier Daily Fishbowl Frankness.pdf
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Cavalier Daily
Fishbowl Frankness
A funny thing happened at the University this weekend: people talked. Not with friends or other acquaintances but with absolute strangers. And their dialogue skipped the trivial matters of everyday life, instead tackling the topics of gender, sexuality and race. Typically, the University bypasses such serious discussions for the more banal, sophomoric waters of Grounds for Discussion. But for three days, students who attended the Fishbowl Discussions witnessed an awesome spectacle of open, frank discussions that hopefully will be repeated every semester in the future.
The forum was the same each night: three panels of five or six students discussed an issue, each panel representing a different makeup (on Day 1 the three groups talking about gender were men ,women and both), and then the audience was allowed to ask questions. That’s it. No celebrity speakers or gimmicky group activities - just talking. The plan seems so obvious, one wonders why it’s taken this long for Fishbowls to become a reality - particularly since this amazing idea came about because of First Year Council and the able leadership of Sonia Chang, chairwoman of the Minority and Women’s Concern’s Committee. Are upperclassmen too steeped in the politics of the University that they forget most of the topics they handle really have little to do with politics? To bring them back to reality, hopefully someone tell them about the Fishbowl Discussions.
It was the candidness of those three nights that made such an impact. One woman admitted she disliked female stereotypes but believed crying for no reason was all right for girls because they deserved those special moments; one man talked about his discomfort when a homosexual flirted with him at a party. This certainly was not a packaged night of motivational speakers and weak scripts designed to showcase how to fix the world in five easy steps. The power of these Fishbowl conversations lied [sic] in their heated discussions that never passed the lines of decency: No one ever yelled, resorted to namecalling or trampled on another’s opinion. It was a night of honesty.
No one. save resident advisors, discusses sexual harassment around Grounds in such a public and open session (few men ever take advantage of what the Women's Center offers); no one opens a dialogue about whether the predominantly black Student Activities Building weekend parties purposefully exclude non-blacks - except those who attended the discussions. Speeches are made and editorials are written decrying the deplorable attitudes toward gender, sexuality and race now present at the University – but they are only words. It seems many students are more interested in drawing a large crowd and engaging in polemics than participating in meaningful debate.
But not only should groups like Student Council and Resident Life investigate creating a more permanent program, the administration needs to jump on the bandwagon as well. It was sad to notice that among all the faces at each of the three nights, not one belonged to an administrator. Those in the dean of Students Office and others directly involved with developing such programs – including Grounds for Discussion – gave fishbowl the cold shoulder. Yet they have just as much to learn from these meetings as students: What are students’ thoughts about gender inequality, sexual discrimination and racial problems? Chang’s plan (note: a first-year student) has laid to waste the heavy-handed ideas the creep out of the Dean of “students Office and Student Council. If the Office is sensible, it will talk not only to Chang and those on her committee but also to students who witnessed the discussion to understand why this forum works better than the Office’s typical programming.
A program is measured by its results, and already Fishbowl Discussions has grown from its “final” meeting. Toward the end of Wednesday night’s meeting, one organizer, spurred by the night’s fervent discussion, invited the audience to continue the experience with a Fishbowl supper Sunday, at 6 p.m., in Newcomb Dining Hall. Nothing major will happen – no fireworks, dramatic productions or sing-a-longs – only discussions at a college level of students’ beliefs and misconceptions. It’s free knowledge, and everyone’s invited. Forget the excuses: Every student and administrator at this University can take time on Sunday to learn a little bit more about themselves and their community.
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Date Added June 22, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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