Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Community Chat – LOU Space and Place

“Get to know people that are different from you.” -Lydia Koltai

In this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Lydia Koltai and Graham Bodie with the Space and Place dialogue series. They talk about the purpose of the series and how it is creating a welcoming space for anyone to discuss issues in our community. Tune in to hear about the rewards and challenges of this series and how they are working to foster conversation and understanding in the LOU community.

Growing up in the Mississippi delta, Lydia Koltai is no stranger to the kind of community that forms in a small Mississippi town. After moving back to the state from California to be closer to family, she found herself in Oxford where she fell in love with the community. She started her own business and homeschools her children, but as the news cycles began running stories about police brutality across the country, she also wanted to get plugged into the type of work that would combat these issues in her own community. This is when she got connected through the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. Through her work there, she met Dr. Graham Bodie.

Graham is an IMC professor in the School of Journalism and New Media. After his research on effective listening was published in the Wall Street Journal, he began consulting agencies on creating a “listen-first” culture in the workplace. From here, he found himself running the Listen First Project, a coalition of 325 organizations nationwide that conduct dialogue deliberation conversation work. It was through his work with the coalition that he met Lydia. Together, they collaborated with other organizations, including the William Winter Institute and Conversations for Change, to create the LOU conversation series.

The Space and Place series is dedicated to creating and fostering welcoming spaces for anyone to share their personal experiences in the LOU community, good or bad. In this space, trust, understanding, and active listening are top priority. Despite our differences, Graham says that we have one thing in common: the love for our community. “Regardless of where someone comes from politically or ideologically, we can agree that we want our community to be welcoming,” Graham says. The first session was spent establishing the foundation of trust to have these sometimes difficult conversations. After that, according to Lydia, is when the real conversations start. “I think, because we’ve built that trust and connected with each other on a human level, we’re going to be able to have some good conversations,” Lydia says. Graham and Lydia hope that these conversations will lead to real, tangible action in the community, creating a more welcoming and accepting place for all.

If you want to get involved in these conversations, you can contact Graham at graham@listenfirstproject.org to get more information. You can also watch or listen to this episode of Community Engagement’s Facebook, Youtube, or your favorite podcast player.

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