Difficult conversations thrive in 'Foundations' podcast
In the most recent episode of the "Foundations" podcast, Virginia Tech students Caroline Lohr and Cait Simson joined Title IX Coordinator Katie Polidoro to tackle a tough topic: sexual and gender based violence on campus. The conversation was insightful, candid, and much needed, the students said.
“It was an absolute honor to be included,” said Simson. “I was incredibly nervous but [host] Anthony Scott and [producer] Mary Desmond were welcoming and created a comfortable atmosphere. My peers, friends, and family were supportive and excited that my cause would be receiving a platform like this.”
“The experience was awesome. I loved it,” said Lohr. “The room, the environment, and the safe space created allowed for me and everyone involved to have an honest and hard conversation.”
“There needs to be a space for discussing difficult topics, where everyone has a voice and feels heard. That is what we aim for in the 'Foundations' podcast,” said Scott, chief inclusion and belonging officer for Student Affairs and host of the show. “Our community is enriched by different perspectives. Individuals grow when they hear other points of view. It is especially important for students to hear from their peers. Students make the conversation lively, thought provoking, and relevant to other students.”
The podcast promotes conversations on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, approached through a college student’s lens.
“We know that messages about culture — especially related to sexual violence — are more meaningful when conveyed by students,” said Polidoro, who also serves as co-chair of the Sexual Violence Culture and Climate (SVCC) work group formed in fall 2021 by President Tim Sands. The SVCC is intentionally made up of a diverse assembly of stakeholders from throughout the university, including students.
“One thing that helps protect against sexual violence is building empathy and belonging for all members of our community,” said Polidoro. “That goes hand in hand with having difficult conversations. Having this talk, listening to the different perspectives, and being able to share our conversation with the broader campus is central to creating a better culture at Virginia Tech.”
Lohr, a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science with a minor in Africana studies, is also Undergraduate Student Senate (USS) president and a member of SVCC since its inception. She said students are hungry for this kind of discussion. “Through my time advocating as USS president, I’ve learned that the main thing students want is peer-to-peer conversations. The student population wants to see passion, advocacy, and conversations between students, especially on issues surrounding sexual violence.”
“Creating an open dialogue around these issues is so important because it reminds our community that this is their space and their participation is necessary if they want to see progress,” said Simson, a junior double majoring in professional and technical writing and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Simson sits on the community engagement subcommittee for the SVCC.
“Whatever is discussed, it needs to be tackled in a fresh and engaging way. There needs to be student involvement both ways in order for any of it to matter,” Simson said.
Established by Student Affairs in January 2022, the "Foundations" podcast started with Scott hosting conversations with students in his office. He called the program "Foundations" because it was a way to set students up to build bridges across differences and establish common ground on a variety of topics. Ashley Roberts, Student Affairs director of communications, suggested that a podcast would be a great way to elevate these conversations and reach a wider student and staff audience. Desmond, visual communications manager for Student Affairs, was brought in as multimedia project manager and producer for the podcast.
Episodes have included the topics of student affinity groups within the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets; the student-run organization Closing the Gap; the Residential Well-being approach to student living on campus; Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission in the context of its enslaved and indigenous ancestral history; race, belonging, and individual accountability in creating a more inclusive culture; and intersectionality of identities and minority student needs on campus.
“It's extremely valuable to be able to listen to something you've never heard of before, learn from someone you have never met before, and take that newfound knowledge and integrate it into your personal and professional life. That is how culture evolves for the better,” said Desmond. “It has also been a pleasure getting to work with a variety of amazing and inspiring guests. Whether there are students or faculty or staff on the show, I always gain a new perspective from the conversations.”
“Our goal is to do all we can to ensure that every Virginia Tech student thrives during their time here,” said Frances Keene, vice president for Student Affairs and a member of the SVCC executive council. “That requires us to create living and learning environments where every voice can be heard. The 'Foundations' podcast demonstrates the value of spaces that highlight the importance of listening to one another. This is foundational to living out our Principles of Community.”
“Every person at Virginia Tech can help create that culture, and having honest and thoughtful conversations like this as a normal part of how we practice community is an important part of that change,” said Polidoro.
"Foundations," a production of Student Affairs, releases new podcasts twice each semester during the academic year.
For more information or to suggest topics for the podcast, contact producer Mary Desmond at firstname.lastname@example.org.