Whenever I think of “engagement”, the word “community” immediately comes to mind. Such as in “community involvement”. Communities can be diverse and reflect many different environments and situations: local communities, school communities, special interest communities, or even online communities—they all exist as a space for people to “engage” and participate in. Although I hate to sound cliché (although I feel it’s unavoidable), it is through this type of community engagement that people can develop an improved understanding of others, break down barriers, and make societal progress together.
Perhaps it’s my education in psychology, my recent explorations into experiences of the “other”, or my own personal feelings as an outsider during my youth: but when I imagine people engaging, I immediately imagine a path towards developing better understanding towards others, inclusivity, and a shared sense of belonging through a shared sense of community. These thoughts prompted my undergrad explorations of adolescents living in socioeconomically marginalized communities—where it came as no surprise that local community engagement helps protect against feelings of insecurity. Studies confirm the insulating effect that can be brought about by community engagement (cite, cite2).
Engagement offers a path towards developing understanding of others, bringing people together towards a common goal. It also provides an opportunity to better understand other people’s perspectives and motives. This conference is important because it creates space for such an opportunity for people to speak with others they normally wouldn’t. It is my hope that this created space fosters the type of dialogue and engagement which leads towards better understanding of other’s perspective. Of course this will not always be the case—but I’m an optimist at heart who believes that much of the progress that we have seen in recent history has been thanks to this type of engagement. I believe this is how we will make progress, and become stronger together as a society.
I’m excited to be a part of this conference and to see the diversity of opinion expressed in a respectful, open-minded, and passionate way. I hope you are too.