When then-first-year student Brittany Chung responded to an email from the Office of Multicultural Affairs about a leadership opportunity, she had no idea what the position entailed. Now, three years later, she’s being recognized nationally for the impact her work in this role has had on Case Western Reserve University.
Chung became a moderator for the university’s then-brand-new Sustained Dialogue Program, which facilitates open discussions among students, faculty and staff about issues they face in an effort to create positive social change. The program isn’t meant to overhaul a person’s thoughts on a particular issue, Chung explained, but rather to introduce them to new perspectives.
“I was empowered,” she said of her excitement in starting the program. “There was so much to learn.”
Leading the program and hearing so many other viewpoints taught her about identity and intersectionality (how systems of oppression or discrimination are interconnected). Beyond that, it’s encouraged her to be a better listener and try to understand the perspectives of others.
“Honestly, it has changed the way I interact with other individuals and how I view the world around me,” Chung said.
Today, the Sustained Dialogue Institute—the national body of the program—will recognize Chung’s efforts at its National Dialogue Awards program in Washington, D.C., where Chung will accept the student award. She’ll be honored alongside Sen. George Mitchell, architect of the Good Friday Peace Accords; Arlington, Va.-based company Evolent Health; Ohio State University alumna Taylor Sawyer; and Lane McLelland, faculty member at the University of Alabama.
Chung is grateful for the award, noting that it recognizes her efforts as well as the faith that others—especially her mentor and nominator Naomi Sigg, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs—have in her.
“This award means a lot to me particularly because the person who nominated me means a lot to me,” Chung said of Sigg, who will be in the audience alongside other campus representatives when Chung accepts the award today.
Chung is one of many participants in the Sustained Dialogue Program, but she was nominated for the award—and won—because one of the key tenets the selection committee looks for is the ability to keep conversations going, even outside of the program.
Across campus, Chung has helped others to develop new ways of thinking and inspire dialogue where usually there would be silence.
Chung helped launch two student organizations—the International and Multicultural Exchange and the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative—to create spaces where students can discuss their concerns openly. One key effort of the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative is “Critical Conversations,” a series to talk about issues on campus and how to address them.
As a resident assistant, she sparked discussion when she designed a bulletin board in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. She listed the names of many members of the transgender community who had died, causing many of her residents to realize they didn’t know much about the issue and that it was something that deserved a deeper conversation.
And in an unofficial capacity, she meets with student organizations—often Greek Life units—to teach them about diversity and encourage them to start a conversation where everyone can share opinions. (She also shared her thoughts—and was featured on the cover of the spring/summer 2015 issue of think—in a series on ethics at the university. Read the article online.)
Fostering these kinds of discussions wasn’t part of Chung’s original college trajectory. A biology-turned-chemistry major, Chung took a history class in her first year that awakened a new interest—and led her to a double major. Even still, Chung considered herself to be on a premed track; she had wanted to be a doctor since she was 10.
Then, she realized that her propensity for social change made prelaw a better fit. Now she hopes to attend the School of Law at Case Western Reserve after graduation, with the end goal of working in government to make positive changes to the social justice system.
“That’s my thing—I want to advocate. I want to help,” she said. “I want this country to have true equality.”
The dialogue doesn’t stop here—keep reading below to find out Chung’s answers to the daily’s five questions.
1. What’s the one place in Cleveland that’s your must-visit for out-of-towners?
The Coffee House. I think it’s just the atmosphere. It’s so relaxed, but at the same time you feel like you can have great conversations with people. That actually happened to me. I was studying and a parent came in. We ended up in this really long conversation just about life.
2. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?
“Fake it till you make it.” My current adviser told me that one and I loved it. The statement alone was so profound to me. She said, “You know, Brittany, sometimes you don’t know things, but if you’re able to give yourself confidence and trust yourself, then one day it’s going to come together.”
3. What’s the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I write poetry. That’s how I vent. I don’t tell a lot of people that. It was my way of coping when I was in high school and depressed. Since then, it’s become my way of venting how I feel and getting strong emotions out.
4. What famous person—past of present—would you most like to have dinner with and where would you go?
I would want to go talk with President Obama. I would love to go to the beach. I just want to go to the beach, sit there and just have a conversation about what his time was like in office and any advice he would have for a potential law student.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The people. A lot of people are open to change. On top of it, I’ve had a great support system, whether it’s students, faculty or staff. I would definitely say the people have had such a huge impact on me and spurred me on to keep doing this work.