Writing and Media Center hosted final Speaker Series event focusing on communicating with empathy


By Claire Hoppe/ Iowa State Daily

Jordan Brooks discussed how self expression is regularly and historically suppressed in Black communities. 

Claire Hoppe

Self expression, embracing mistakes and taking time to slow down and be present were only some of the topics discussed at Monday’s Speaker Series event hosted by Iowa State’s Writing and Media Center.

The latest and final event in the Speaker Series, which focused on communication justice, was titled “Communicating with Empathy: Relationality and Creativity in Contemporary Learning.” The event featured three panelists who each discussed their own experience in communicating with empathy through language and art: Jordan W. Brooks, the director of equity, inclusion and multicultural student success for Iowa State’s College of Design and founder of KNWSLF, a design brand, Mani Mina, an associate professor of industrial design and electrical and computer engineering and Lucia M. Suarez, an associate professor of Spanish Latinx studies and director of U.S. Latino/a studies program in the World Languages and Culture dept. 

Brooks on reflection, identity and self expression

Brooks, who used to work in residential life at a previous job, said he was having a conversation with students in 2015 when he realized he had not been practicing self love, which began his journey with creativity and self expression.

“I came to find that I believe we’re engaging in creative ways to acquire knowledge, develop wisdom, practice self love and engage [in] fellowship with each other,” Brooks said. “If we’re using our expression, using our creative languages and things in that way, not only does it help us build up who we are as individuals, builders in our community, as well, helps us be connected and interconnected to one another.”

After beginning his journey with creativity and finding his identity, Brooks said he began to frequently engage in creative self reflection through following drawing prompts. According to him, he made an important realization while doing these prompts- that energy through a visual or piece of art can be transferred to someone else.

“But that act of sharing and transmitting that energy through that visual representation is a powerful thing, and it’s worth respecting,” Brooks said.

An example of this Brooks said was the energy he felt through art created by his ancestors, whether that be through poetry, art or music. According to him, this energy is what helped him to start exploring how Black identities develop.

Brooks said throughout history Black voices have been continually suppressed. He said the first thing people try to take away is someone’s self expression. Because of this, Brooks takes on the challenge of expressing himself boldly in his art because it connects his story to those in the past and in the future.

“The art itself is telling a story again. It goes back to this piece of raw energy, the energy of that movement,” Brooks said. “The reason behind it is put and infused into the art.”

Mina on making and celebrating mistakes

Mina, who has been a life-long learner, said he always asks people who are skilled at their traits how they “get so good.” According to them, the answer is simple- they make plenty of mistakes.

“So the pathway to know and the pathway to grow is mistakes, which means that they are doing university wrong,” Mina said.

According to Mina, professors and teachers should encourage students to share their mistakes so that they can grow and learn from them. Mina said instead of punishing students for making mistakes, they should be celebrated as an opportunity for learning.

Mina said that mistakes happen because everyone is human, and humanity is flawed. This begs the question- how do you celebrate the humanity in everyone?

“You do it in the community,” Mina said. “You’re born on the language culture of the community…You celebrate those who have the more difficult time because they probably did ask better questions.”

Mina said this is what education is all about, celebrating the human and the voices of every student.

Suarez on connective, transformative learning

Suarez, a Cuban immigrant, said her upbringing shaped her teaching style today. She said after her family moved to the U.S. in an immigrant community in New York, her environment was constantly dynamic and changing. This led her to become interested in trying to connect with everyone around her. This is what reflects in her teaching style today.

“My research is all about trying to figure out, trying to connect my communities, my neighbors, the friendships. Who is my friend and how do I understand their family, right?” Suarez said. “And that’s what I always try to bring into the classroom when I teach.”

Suarez said an important part of her teaching is listening and hearing the stories of others. Suarez also mentioned the importance of listening to the stories of others when she discussed the books she has authored. Suarez mentioned three works: “The Tears of Hispaniola: Haitian and Dominican Diaspora Memory,” “The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World” and “Dancing Bahia: Essays on Afro-Brazilian Dance, Education, Memory and Race.”

According to her, the challenges she faced while writing “Dancing Bahia” were ones that shaped how she views teaching and storytelling- she couldn’t write down other peoples’ stories.

“Because what ended up happening was I really loved the stories that these people had to tell,” Suarez said. “And it was just it was wrong for me to tell their stories, and it’s okay as ethnographers, as cultural studies people, we gather stories and we tell them, but it’s also really important that we gather stories, and we let the people whose stories they have share their stories.”

Suarez said she tries to bring this idea into her classroom. According to her, her classroom is a sacred space where any question can be asked and all stories can be told. She also noted the importance of professors and students learning from each other.

“I’m learning from you. You’re learning from me, we are learning from each other,” Suarez said. “And it’s not only in the space of the classroom, but really beyond [the classroom].”

You can watch the lecture here