Mickey Hart

Mickey Hart, director of the LGBT Center, reports his group's findings

Tyrone Carr

Tyrone Carr, from the Office of Diversity, Access and Equity at Ohio University, addresses the audience

Brian Bridges

Vice Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges talks about the purpose of the town hall meeting

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Town hall meeting provides open forum for community

Community members want more bonding opportunities

According to the event's organizers, Tuesday night's Athens town hall meeting on diversity and civility can be categorized as "mission accomplished."

Carrying the title, "Diversity and Civility in Our Community," the meeting was designed to allow the approximately 90 attendees an opportunity to share personal experiences, ideas and concerns on many issues not commonly discussed among strangers.

John Schmieding, a member of the Athens Community Relations Commission and a co-facilitator at the meeting, said the meeting is the first step in a new campaign to make the city better. He said it also permitted attendees to get to know each other better and share their unique stories.

"We want to gather ideas and input from all of you so that we can make Athens a better place to live," Schmieding told the crowd.

Organizers asked attendees to do five things during the meeting. They were asked to speak from their heart, choose what they share, listen with curiosity and respect, practice confidentiality and allow other people's comments to stand on their own without adding personal feedback to them.

After introductory opening remarks from Schmieding and co-facilitator Reggie Robinson, attendees were divided into small groups and asked to individually categorize  cultural identity pyramid topics (race, abilities, class, nationality, regionality, gender, age, sexual orientation, spirituality and ethnicity) into three categories (most and least salient and most situational).

The most salient topics were those that were most often thought about by the person, while the most situational topics were those that are only thought of in certain situations.

After individuals shared their personal rankings, each group brainstormed ideas that would make the community more close knit and improve diversity and civility among its residents.  

Ohio University student shared that his college friends often believe their voice isn't being heard outside the classroom. Another male student said the community needs to find a way to get past the difficult issues that separate us and learn to work together.

One community member said she is part of a group of Athenians that is working hard to improve visual civility. She said this means reducing the amount of graffiti and litter in town.

A few of the other shared group ideas were:

•    Schedule more events (like the town meeting) that bring diverse people together, including college students

•    Create more safe places for people to share their thoughts and ideas

•    Proide more support for local organizations that promote civility and diversity

•    Get to know your neighbors by reaching out to them

"I hope everyone learned something today," said Ohio University Vice Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges. "We live in a shared community. As it grows and changes, we hope for continued collaboration and hope that Athens becomes a beacon of diversity and civility."

The meeting was a joint effort between the City of Athens, the Athens Community Relations Commission, the League of Women Voters of Athens County and the Ohio University Office for Diversity, Access and Equity.