For Nebraska undergraduates Saisha Adhikari and Carter Bracht, journeys launched by Husker Dialogues took separate (but diverging) paths that have developed leadership skills, greater understanding on inclusivity and a desire to give back.
Launched in 2016, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Husker Dialogues program helps first-year students dig into the roots of individual beliefs while learning from the stories of peers, fostering greater inclusivity on campus. Normally held in person, Husker Dialogues is transitioning to a virtual experience this year due to the global pandemic and begins Sept. 10.
Adhikari and Bracht had polar opposite reactions when they attended as first-year students in 2017. The messaging and face-to-face interactions resonated within Adhikari, drawing her deeper into conversations and creating a desire for greater participation. For Bracht, attendance was just going through motions, checking a box for a new student requirement.
“You could say I was blissfully ignorant,” Bracht said. “I came here from a rural community and inclusion wasn’t something that people considered or talked about. I probably didn’t even pay attention to the presentations.”
As Bracht departed, glad to leave the task behind him, Adhikari left inspired and wanted to learn more.
“I come from a predominantly Caucasian school and often felt like I was the only one outwardly different in the classroom,” Adhikari said. “One of the speakers was a vibrant woman of color who talked about the discrimination she faces in school and that resonated within me.”
Then, in small group discussion that follows speaker presentations, Adhikari found she shared similar experiences and worries with others.
“Learning that you have these shared experiences that are understood by others was reassuring,” Adhikari said. “And, it was also cool getting to learn from the perspectives of others.
“The whole event was inspiring.”
The experience led Adhikari to become a student organizer for the Husker Dialogues program. She is in her third year as a volunteer, helping lead and expand the program.
During the course of his first year on campus, Bracht’s involvement deepened and he forged connections with fellow Huskers from around the world. His desire to pivot and reconsider lessons from Husker Dialogues came after attending an inclusive leadership retreat.
“The retreat was something I did to become a mentor with the Honors Program,” Bracht said. “It was a smaller event than Husker Dialogues and I couldn’t just be a face in the crowd. I paid attention for the entire six hours and it really opened my eyes.”
A growing desire to help further inclusivity and learning from what others have to say led Bracht to volunteer with the Husker Dialogues program. Like Adhikari, he has helped guide the program for three-straight years.
“I want to help other students, especially those who may come from a rural background similar to mine, learn about the importance of diversity and inclusion,” Bracht said. “Participating is also a way for me to continue to learn and grow.”
Adhikari said the stories told are what draws her back every year.
“It’s just a tremendous opportunity for students to make lasting connections and to start thinking bigger,” Adhikari said. “I also want to expand the program, making it more than one event.”
She is currently working with the Office of Student Involvement to incorporate the Husker Dialogues program into student group meetings. Adhikari said the concept is to provide videos of the speeches then allow the groups to break down into small groups and have guided conversations.
“COVID is making it hard, but we’re moving forward as best we can,” Adhikari said. “My hope is to get this off the ground because we all need to be having these conversations on a regular basis.
“The Husker Dialogues experience is an opportunity to learn and grow, two things that could benefit each of us.”
Husker Dialogues sessions are at 7 p.m. Sept. 10, 15, 16 and 17 via Zoom. All first-year Huskers are pre-assigned via Canvas a session to attend.
The online event will feature a series of videos followed by small group discussions. Trained conversation guides will lead the groups as needed.
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Coming from a small town in Nebraska, Carter knew he wouldn't know many people in Lincoln. So, he built his own community. By joining plenty of Registered Student Organizations, being active in @unlhonors and working at @unlcampusrec, Carter started to find friends and mentors that helped him adjust to collegiate life. Being active on campus helped him to find his interests and make new friends, but it also taught him about diversity and respecting others. Hailing from a town of fewer than 600 people, he didn't grow up with many of the different cultures that are represented across the University of Nebraska–Lincoln campus. By reaching out and opening his mind, he was able to forge strong relationships with Huskers from across the world. "If you're close-minded, you aren't going to form anything, you're not going to learn anything.” Carter took the lessons he learned from his experiences on campus and applied them to his keynote speech during this year's Husker Dialogues. He urged students to be inclusive, respectful, outgoing and kind and also encouraged them to find some form of student involvement that interests them. With over 550 student organizations on campus, Carter says there's something for everyone. "Go to that one club meeting — you're going to find somebody want to meet," Carter said, "You're not going to really go anywhere or make any new friends unless you make the step to go and go do it." ... Carter Bracht is a junior biochemistry major from Howells, Nebraska. To share your story or nominate a friend, email firstname.lastname@example.org or post using #ImAHusker. #UNL #InOurGritOurGlory