Fire Circle sparks understanding

Beginning last semester, students started to hold “fire circle,” an outcome of the listening sessions started by the campus climate and culture task force. The fire circles are a way for students to gather and discuss the culture on campus in an open and accepting atmosphere.

The fire circle is structured in the circle way method. The circle way is a method of discussion designed to keep conversation inclusive, safe for students and ultimately to reach understanding. It drew its inspiration from the ancient practice of gathering around a campfire at the end of the day.

“The circle way is a process designed to bring people together, to hold that space collectively, to have opinions and beliefs and ideas that don’t diminish the other people in the community …” said Dr. Lisa Smith, dean of student engagement and former task force co-chair. “This is an ancient practice, right? This is coming around the campfire, and you make it back at the end of the night, at the end of the day, and you won against the forces of nature, against whatever. You know, this is a beautiful, deeply held, practice of humanity.”

Fire circles started after three students reached out to Smith following a listening session, who wanted to utilize the circle way and extend the conversation beyond the campus climate survey that revealed the extent of sexual violence on campus. The students were junior Kaelen Dea and seniors Cole Fisher and Johnnie Wallace. They now make up the fire circle delegation. They wanted to understand more why others didn’t feel safe on campus when they did.
Smith said that fire circle is student-led, calling it a “grassroots” movement to building a better community.

“We’re not everybody on campus … We wanted to kind of hear that, and we were trying to understand what that was or what the basis of it was and  where that originated from …” Dea said. “I think at first we were just trying to understand for ourselves. We had no idea what it looked like or what that could turn into. But after we first met, we kind of felt like this could be something really big on campus, and we could help solve a lot of problems.”

Past circles have began with a question to get conversation started. Generally, the question revolves around Hastings College. Last year, there was emphasis on the campus climate survey. This year, the discussion focuses on how to get first-year students involved on campus.

“We’re just a group of people that want to solve a problem, talk about it, learn from each other. We just want to make a difference on our campus,”
Dea said.

The fire circle has five agreements, modeled off the Hastings Habits. The agreements are a set of guidelines to help keep conversation open and civil. One agreement, care of all things, guides people in the circle to seek understanding. Civil candor asks people to remember that they are all part of a community and to be open and honest. The circle also uses a talking piece, so everyone has an opportunity to talk without interruption.

Fire circles are held Sundays at 7 p.m. and Thursdays at 8 p.m. on the patio connected to the cafeteria, weather permitting. All students are welcome.