Students and faculty find community outside of the classroom within the MU College of Education’s safe conversational space Mizzou Ed Bridge

Mizzou Ed Bridge utilizes book discussions, research presentations and more to create open discussions on discrimination within education.

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Mizzou Ed Bridge, also referred to as just “The Bridge,” utilizes their space to encourage MU community members to discuss a range of topics including race, gender, the LGBTQ+ community and more in the context of education. The space promotes open conversation about topics that still need to be addressed within education systems. It features book discussions about socially relevant topics, panel discussions about local research and promotes itself as a space to feel comfortable discussing serious topics.

The Bridge is a student-run space for all students, faculty and community members situated in Townsend Hall, still open for in-person operations with social distancing measures in place.

“It is an opportunity to engage the entire college [of Education] community, and in extension, Mizzou, to engage people in conversations that we typically shy away from,” Theresa Solis Metz director of diversity and inclusion for the MU College of Education and faculty coordinator of The Bridge, said. “What’s normal to talk about?”

Metz said Mizzou Ed Bridge hopes to expand the MU community’s thinking on tough subjects that don’t come up in “polite conversation.”

“The personal is political,” Metz said.

Metz also pointed out the importance The Bridge holds within the MU College of Education. The College of Education states they are committed to preparing teachers, educators and other professionals to embrace different perspectives and respect individual differences. The Bridge is a space to practice that in a protected atmosphere open to discussions and safe to make mistakes.

“It’s making sure we are preparing individuals as best we can to approach not just their practice and profession but their life, with a certain regard, openness and consciousness that’s needed to really be effective,” Metz said.

Education students are being taught to teach, interact, and foster relationships with students from all backgrounds and experiences. Being prepared to facilitate discussions about facing discrimnation and practicing acceptance are crucial to their careers, and The Bridge is a space that gives them exposure to those concepts. The space allows them to practice skills needed to lead these conversations.

Not only is it important for educators to know how to facilitate such discussions, it’s also important for educators themselves to have these discussions in order to better help their future students.

For Nasitta Keita, a doctoral student in Educational, School and Counseling Psychology, her participation in Mizzou Ed Bridge has helped her feel welcomed and has encouraged her to participate in more open dialogues about peoples’ differences.

“When I first came to Missouri, I didn’t know anybody. The Bridge was the first space that really welcomed me in,” Keita said. “I really appreciate The Bridge being a space where I know I can go in and get the support and care I need.”

Keita said creating a space open to serious discussions has helped form a community based on trust. As students engage in the discourse that The Bridge provides, they make new connections and relationships that become support systems throughout their transition to becoming educators.

Senior Elizabeth Flippin agrees with Keita. Flippin is a member of the Student Advisory Committee, the group of students who coordinate operations within The Bridge, and says that the space fosters a special type of connection.

“It’s a community, but we still push each other,” Flippin said. “I definitely think The Bridge has given me more grace with people … It’s really expanded my ability to have grace and understanding and hold space for people that I wouldn’t have been able to four years ago as a high school senior.”

Student staff at The Bridge facilitate discussions, welcome new guests and maintain the space’s atmosphere. The Bridge and its atmosphere of openness and understanding draw people in and leave a lasting impact.

For sophomore Ro Leapheart, who is studying secondary English language arts education, is also on the Student Advisory Committee, The Bridge offers practice in teamwork. Leapheart says his experience with Mizzou Ed Bridge has allowed him to learn to lead better.

“[The Bridge] has taught me how to understand my allyship better and how to be a better member and educator to the communities that I belong to,” Leapheart said.

While these conversations happen within the safe space community Mizzou Ed Bridge creates, the conversations don’t stop at the door. It’s encouraged for conversations that happen within The Bridge to happen outside of the space as well.

“I have to practice what I talk about with other people,” Metz said. “I am not exempt from examining my own [complicity] in all these things, in all our -isms.”

Edited by Sophie Stephens | sstephens@themaneater.com

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