JusTalks is a peer-led initiative that began with a group of students meeting weekly during the 2011-2012 academic year to discuss structural inequality and its manifestations on campus. Those conversations led to student advocacy that gathered the support of 60 student organizations, sports teams, interest houses, and academic courses to develop a curriculum that could be used to integrate JusTalks into the Middlebury student experience. The result was the inaugural JusTalks Forum held in January 2013. Since then, JusTalks has been structured in various ways, but the underlying mission to create space for critical conversations and social change has remained the same.
JusTalks is a community of students who focus on making the Middlebury community more empathetic and aware of the systems of oppression that surround us. Part of this awareness includes naming those systems, exploring how we continue to replicate them, and learning how to begin to dismantle them in order to create change. The skills to do this are developed through conversations and workshops designed and facilitated by students. Having the shared experiences of being part of Middlebury, the student facilitators are able to see the needs of the community and create spaces for the missing critical conversations on campus. JusTalks facilitators are trained in how to guide conversations that do not center dominant voices or recreate dominant dynamics. In creating the content for the workshops, students critically engage with social justice issues and strive to create a culture of change.
JusTalks at Middlebury Winter Course
The JusTalks at Middlebury (INTD 0227) course has two primary goals: (i) to develop students’ capacity to facilitate dialogues between peers, and (ii) to prepare students to develop the curriculum for peer education workshops. The course explores both the dynamics of power and privilege that reinforce systems of oppression and how those dynamics manifest in the attitudes and behaviors that occur in workshop settings. Students learn how to create space for critical conversations not only about inequity at the structural level but also as it gets reinforced through interpersonal interactions.
JusTalks First-Year Forum
In past winter terms, JusTalks has hosted a First-Year Forum to create a space for first-year students to engage in critical conversations about social justice and social change. The First-Year Forum has previously been planned, hosted, and facilitated by students enrolled in the JusTalks at Middlebury J-Term course. The JusTalks Peer Education Facilitators offered concurrent workshops on a variety of social justice topics for first-year students to explore what the issues mean for them and for the broader Middlebury community. The First-Year Forum is intended to (i) foster the habits of listening empathically and responding constructively when engaging in complex discussions that address topics such as privilege and difference, and (ii) develop greater awareness of how to contribute actively to building an inclusive community. The knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students will develop in this course are consciously intended to be transferable to other settings and transformative for the Middlebury community.
JusTalks is structured to provide ongoing opportunities for Middlebury students to participate in dialogues about social justice and social change. The JusTalks Program infrastructure is outlined below.
JusTalks Peer Education Facilitators
Students can apply to be JusTalks Peer Education Facilitators for the year-long program. Facilitators meet weekly throughout the academic year to continue developing their facilitation skills and to increase their capacity to recognize and be responsive to the dynamics that occur in workshop settings. Facilitators also develop workshops on social justice topics of their choosing that they facilitate for peers in various contexts (in residence halls, for student organizations, for athletic teams, in academic courses, etc.). This is a paid position, and facilitators are paid for each part of the work (weekly training, curriculum development, and workshop facilitation). The regular weekly commitment is two hours each week plus any time spent facilitating scheduled workshops.
Each year, one student is selected to serve as the JusTalks Coordinator. This student coordinates the logistics of the JusTalks Program. This involves creating promotional materials that can be used to recruit students for the JusTalks at Middlebury J-Term course, updating the JusTalks website, responding to JusTalks emails, coordinating with campus partners (in Residential Life, Student Activities, Athletics, student organizations, sports teams, and courses) to schedule JusTalks workshops by request, managing the JusTalks training schedule to ensure facilitators are assigned to develop and facilitate requested workshops, and compiling assessment data for individual workshops and the overall program. This is a paid position that typically involves eight hours of work each week.
As of the 2019-2020 academic year, the JusTalks Program is partnering with the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to provide support and development to ensure the Program’s success and continuity. The Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, Crystal Jones, serves as the JusTalks advisor, provides ongoing training and development for the JusTalks Peer Education Facilitators, and provides guidance and support for the JusTalks Coordinator in the management of the program logistics.