Through a series of simple prompts, more than 75 Huskers stepped beyond stereotypes to celebrate their differences and similarities.
The lessons were part of UnBoxing: Beyond Labels, an Oct. 27 event in the Nebraska Union Ballroom, organized by Lory Dance, associate professor of ethnic studies and sociology, and Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor and dean of undergraduate education.
Based on a Danish TV2 video, the event started with participants self-selecting to stand in any of 12 boxes outlined in masking tape on the floor. The box titles — or stereotypes — ranged from political affiliation and hometown size to ethnicity and sexual orientation. Once all participants found a box, Dance started to read prompts.
“If you are a Husker who hates going to the dentist, step outside of your box,” Dance said. “If you took that step, look around. These are people who you are like you and might be willing to talk about it. They also might be willing to help next time you make an appointment.”
After each prompt, participating students, faculty and staff returned to their original box and waited for Dance to announce another. The phrases ran the gamut from hobbies to personal choices.
“Basically, this is showing that we’re not all so different,” said Siaria Baustert, a freshman criminology and criminal justice major. “There were some serious questions asked and I really enjoyed that so many people were willing to step out of their box and be vulnerable alongside me.”
Goodburn said that is the point of the UnBoxing event.
“We hope everyone walks away with a sense that, even though there might be physical or cultural differences by which they identify themselves, that they still share many commonalities,” Goodburn said. “And that we should really all be open to meeting other people, going outside comfort zones and trying to learn from other people’s perspectives and experiences.”
One of the more interesting group responses came when Dance asked for people to step forward who felt comfortable talking about sensitive issues on campus. After a moment of hesitation, only a few feet moved outside their respective boxes.
“That was one of the things that struck me,” Goodburn said. “None of the students said they felt comfortable doing so. In order to create a really inclusive community, we need to develop a climate where people feel comfortable in engaging on these issues and talking openly about their differences.”
This was the second time Dance organized an UnBoxing event on campus. The first, held in the spring semester, drew about 30 participants.
Along with being open to the entire campus community, the Oct. 27 UnBoxing was offered as part of Dance’s ethnic studies class and Goodburn’s work with Nebraska’s Emerging Leaders program.
After the final prompt, the students, faculty and staff were encouraged to partake in refreshments and talk to someone with whom they shared a likeness.
“We hope everyone saw someone when stepping outside the box that they shared something with,” Dance said. “We also hope that, over food, they introduce themselves to each other and start some face-to-face interactions.”