Xavier community promotes dialogue at Freedom Center

Faculty and students contribute time; Brueggeman center aids in training discussion facilitators | August 26, 2004

Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Laura Bush may have grabbed the spotlight at last month’s gala opening of Cincinnati’s National Underground Freedom Center, but it’s people like Heather Risk who ultimately stand to make the center a success. Risk, a fourth-year doctoral student in psychology at Xavier, spends 10 hours each week working as a facilitator in the center’s dialogue zone, a final stop where visitors can reflect on what they’ve seen.

“Part of the hope of the freedom center is that you take the lessons of history and apply them today,” Risk says. “As you learn all these things, you also learn how they impact the present and what you can do about it. That’s where dialogue is really important—the ability to discuss with other people and share our thoughts, feelings and experiences in order to work together.”

Working together for the greater good is part of the Jesuit tradition, so from a Xavier viewpoint, it’s appropriate that Risk is part of an extended University family that’s made contributions to the freedom center. Three other doctor of psychology candidates—Roland Peckham, Karen Banks Tabern and Kristn Currans—are also working as dialogue facilitators at the center; the Edward B. Brueggeman center for dialogue helped train the four in facilitating discussion; and Cathy McDaniels Wilson, visiting professor in psychology, is director of dialogue programs at the center. As part of 18-plus weeks of training that included the history of slavery and the underground railroad, the four took part in a two-day civic engagement workshop at the Brueggeman center in early March.

McDaniels Wilson says it’s important to have University students involved at the center, and she’s quick to praise Risk and her peers. “They have immersed themselves in all aspects of this process,” she says. “A lot of it is about self-exploration and internal growth. On top of everything else they’re doing (for their degree work), they had to interview for this. They really have been stretched in a lot of ways.”

Risk, who one day hopes to work with victims of abuse, says she’s already felt the impact of the process, both personally and professionally. “I heard about the center and I was interested because racism is something that impacts so many people,” she says. “It was an opportunity to get involved and make a difference.”