Window Talks: Every Freshman Has One!

20141103_222337 (2)

If you could share one ‘window’ into your life, offer one glimpse into one experience that has shaped you who you are, what would it be? How does the world look from your windowsill?

That’s what freshmen from the 2nd and 3rd floors of New South have been doing this academic year, with two students sharing a ‘Window Talk’ every week!

As a chaplain in the largest freshman dorm on campus, one of my primary goals is to create space where students can respectfully get to know each other . After all, a sense of truly knowing others and being known by others in community doesn’t just happen on its own. With New South’s big floor and long hallways, students often complain they don’t even know their neighbors. Therefore, ‘Window Talks’ are a time when we cut through the superficiality of the quick ‘hey’ and ‘what’s up’ to talk about those issues that really matter in our lives.


It’s important that the series offers a safe and respectful space for students to share openly. After all, as I’ve pointed out to the students, we must always keep aware that a ‘window’ doesn’t give us an ultimate or comprehensive view on someone – but just a privileged glimpse into one slice of their life. Thus while the talks are meant to invite deeper discussion, they are never on occasion for stereotype, judgement or gossip. Each week, we acknowledge the speakers’ willingness to be vulnerable, and afterwards the students thank them for sharing their story. The students in the audience each week have been wholeheartedly respectful by listening carefully, asking questions that seek to understand, and reflecting on their own experiences.

Sure enough, Georgetown freshmen are deep. In the fall semester, some shared about struggles – for example, several offered reflection on dealing with alcoholism and mental illness in their families. They’ve also been telling about explorations, like getting involved in the Buddhist meditation sangha here at Georgetown. We’ve also been talking about class: one of our freshman women from New York gave “How My Experience with the Occupy Wall Street movement led me to the School of Foreign Service.” The talks have also highlighted race and culture from multiple perspectives. Two African American students highlighted the diversity within minority experience. In “Growing up in North Philly,” one discussed the difficulties of growing up in a poor and often violent community. The other shared ‘African American and Affluent: Not An Oxymoron,” talking about the successful mentors she’d grown up with in her African American community, and how she views her African American identity in contrast to the stereotypes she faces.

IMAG07942What makes the Window Talks so helpful for building community is that, even though the stories are particular, the issues that they raise touch us all. In December, a student shared about her grandparents’ deaths in Korea. Her vulnerability about the journey to find closure opened up a broader conversation about grief. In the crowd were others students who had faced this as well: a sophomore who’d lost his grandfather a year ago when he was a freshman on my floor, and also a current freshwoman facing the same situation now: “I’m so glad you shared this,” she said, “because my grandfather in India died recently, and I need to grieve too.”

IMAG0779Finally, I have enjoyed the Talks because students share fascinating ‘windows’ into experiences and subjects that I would never think of! Later, one of this year’s Jewish students gave the talk “Bleed Air Force Blue.” It was about growing up as an ‘Air Force brat’ and having to move nearly every year as a kid. Her talk was a reflection on growing in personal strength despite always being the new kid at school, about family sacrifice and her respect for the people she saw serving, but also about her desire for a different and more stable life for herself. Few others in the room had grown up with any knowledge of the military life, so we were all fascinated to gaze briefly through the ‘window’ of someone who had.

As chaplain, I’m so grateful to the students who have shared. It takes courage to give a Window Talk, but their doing it has made this floor a stronger and closer community!

Stephanie Wong, Chaplain-In-Residence