A Look Back & Ahead: Making Chautauqua More Diverse & Inclusive

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I can’t believe how quickly this summer has flown by. I hope this season’s offerings have rejuvenated your mind, body and soul. I received many emails and had many informal conversations with Chautauquans this past week affirming my thoughts and process to a land acknowledgment process as outlined in last week’s column. Many offered helpful suggestions based on their own professional experience. However, I received one email from a Chautauquan who stated that the column solidified her “opinion that you don’t have enough to do.” This feedback made me reflect that some might not have a full sense of the work that I have done and the path ahead for the Institution’s work on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA). 

If Chautauquans are interested in learning more about the strategic direction outlining the Institution’s IDEA goals, I would encourage you to read the IDEA Strategic Plan, available at The same website also offers an annual update, published this spring, on progress made so far. While these documents provide information on both the big picture strategies and more strategic goal accomplishments, it is not lost on me that the impact of this work is not always readily visible. The measure of success can be multifold: seen in patron satisfaction data (including anecdotal evidence and verbal feedback), increase in diverse patrons visiting the grounds and impact on business goals, to name a few.  

Some of you have stopped me on the street to mention their observations of IDEA success. One Chautauquan mentioned that she was sitting on her porch and noticed not one, but two, families of color walk down the street within a 45-minute period. She claimed excitedly, “This has never happened before, so whatever you are doing, it is working and please keep doing it.” Many others have affirmed the increase of patrons of color in their own observations, as well. We will, of course, measure these numbers more objectively as we implement newer technologies to understand patron demographics, engagement and retention over time. The other significant area of success has been our work to make the grounds and our programs more accessible for Chautauquans with disabilities. Programs like the new mobility scooter rental program not only provide a more reliable and higher-quality patron experience, it also significantly impacts our business bottom line by allowing us to use that income to help with future accessibility upgrades. If you are still unsure about if or why IDEA work is needed at the Institution, I encourage you to speak with diverse patrons, students and staff whose experience has been impacted by the IDEA work that the Institution has accomplished.  

In the coming months, my focus will be to create a targeted marketing campaign to invite new, diverse patrons to our grounds. This growth in our patron base is essential to the short- and long-term success of the Institution. An experienced marketing agency is helping us with these efforts. The marketing materials will be filmed and captured this coming week. In the fall, we will better define our marketing strategies. In the winter, we will launch targeted marketing campaigns to new, diverse patrons when we go “on sale” for our sesquicentennial 2024 season. Additionally, I will focus on designing and delivering a multitude of staff trainings to better prepare our staff to serve an increasingly diverse patron base. Lastly, I will work with my colleagues to prioritize and accomplish accessibility upgrades to our facilities, technologies and programs. 

Last, but not least, I will reiterate my request for your partnership in this work in two concrete ways: First, I know that the most tried and tested path to inviting and retaining new Chautauquans is when existing Chautauquans serve as that invitational bridge. Your active and intentional support to identify new patrons, and especially diverse patrons and families, would be an invaluable gift. If you are having a hard time determining who might be a good fit, may I suggest that you think of our four pillars and determine who in your spheres of contact might appreciate the arts, religion, education and recreation? Secondly, the list of IDEA goals is long, and especially so for our accessibility goals. I invite you to consider making a gift to IDEA to help us accelerate these efforts by contacting  

On a personal note, I want to thank all of you who have affirmed my position and presence on the grounds, and to those who have offered constructive feedback. For those of you departing for your other homes, I hope that we will be able to stay in touch over the off-season. I will count the days when we are able to gather again in celebration of Chautauqua’s 150th birthday.   

With warmth and gratitude,  
Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

On Land Acknowledgments

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I attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for my undergraduate studies, and as a recent immigrant to Canada at that time, I was intrigued by the First Nations Longhouse, a “home away from home” to support Indigenous students at the university. During my time at the university and continuing to this day, the university publicly proclaims that “UBC Vancouver is situated in the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam — People of the River Grass.” The first time I heard this, I didn’t quite understand what was being acknowledged or, more importantly, why it was being acknowledged. My curiosity led me to dig deeper into the history of Canada and to better understand the historical and contemporary relationships between Indigenous communities of western Canada, the Canadian government and non-Native people. My explorations helped me better understand the socio-cultural practice of land acknowledgements.   

Land acknowledgement is not a new concept. Many Native nations have historically practiced this tradition for centuries — to start gatherings and ceremonies with a recognition of the traditional and ancestral keepers of the land. In modern practice, both Native communities and non-Native communities have adopted this practice. Companies and organizations might list a statement on their website, or even have a plaque on their grounds. Conferences often print one in the conference guidebook. Speakers in academic and non-academic settings might start their remarks with such a statement. Chautauquans may have experienced speakers on our stages doing the same. In short, land acknowledgements have become a much more common practice.   

If you are not familiar with land acknowledgements, you might be wondering why more and more people are adopting this practice. One prime benefit is to draw attention to the history of the land and the communities who inhabited it. This serves an educational purpose, as it did for me at UBC. It may also simply be a way to give thanks to those who have literally taken care of the lands — historically and in the contemporary context. A parallel practice, found in many faith traditions, is to take a moment before a meal to thank a higher power and/or those who have produced and prepared the food for our enjoyment and nourishment – simply a moment to pause and give gratitude. In some cases, the statement might draw attention to Indigenous communities that still might be in the surrounding area, so that we can recognize their continued presence. In other instances, it might be to draw attention that lands are “unceded,” a word commonly found in such acknowledgements. 

Not everyone sees the value of a land acknowledgement. Some people simply write it off as an act of political correctness. Others see it as “performative allyship” — something that makes the speaker look caring or thoughtful, but ultimately an act that has no material impact on Indigenous communities. Others argue about when and how often to do a land acknowledgment — before every public gathering, or only during “significant” events? The practice of land acknowledgment varies greatly from community to community.    

When I arrived at Chautauqua two years ago, a few people asked me to write one as soon as possible. I politely declined to do so. Here’s why: I think we risk creating more harm when well-intentioned organizations and people write these statements without ever developing a relationship with the Indigenous communities that are still present near and with us. The Seneca people, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, are still here. Writing a statement without ever starting a conversation or relationship-building process with them seemed “off” to me. A statement might serve as a starting point, but it needs to be rooted in a desire and concerted effort to build ongoing relationships. Writing a statement in isolation is easy. Building a relationship is hard.   

I have searched for examples where organizations have built intentional relationships with Indigenous communities prior to issuing a land acknowledgement, and I have not found one yet. I have been pondering what such a relationship might look like. Is it about inviting Native speakers? Understanding the history and contemporary struggles of the local Indigenous communities? Appreciating cultural practices, including the traditional ways of caretaking for the lands and the environment? What could we learn from them, and what might we have to offer in return? I am not sure that I have all the answers, or if I am even thinking about this in the right way, but I would love to hear your thoughts.   

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

Accessibility Matters

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My very first professional job out of college was as an adviser at the Disability Resource Center at my alma mater. I was recruited to that position because the director of that office had witnessed me bridge cultural divides on campus as a student leader in many different contexts. I did not have a lot of practical experience working with people with disabilities, so I was hesitant if I would be a good fit for the position. I was intrigued, even surprised, when the director said that “lots of people can be trained for the mechanics of the job – the law, our processes, etc. But, what you have is the ability to be empathetic, to listen and understand, and when needed – to advocate. That is much harder to train.”  

I am not sure that I completely bought her reasoning, but I was willing to give it a try. My first six weeks on the job were focused on intense training to understand all aspects of the position without meeting with a single client. I thought I needed a crash course in disability law. While that information was important, I soon found out that the most important skill was understanding each client’s experience and needs as distinct and unique.  

For example, the law provided guidance for the rights of all people who were blind or low vision. However, I soon realized that there was tremendous diversity within the category of those were legally blind. Some wanted their books in braille. Others preferred books on tape. Some wanted note takers with typed notes, while others preferred their lectures to be audio recorded.  

I soon realized that instead of starting my conversations with clients with any pre-conceived notions of what people with visual impairments needed, I had to start from a blank slate. More importantly, I had to push myself to understand their abilities first, and then address the barriers that impeded their learning. In short, my supervisor was right – it was all about empathy, listening, understanding and advocating.  

The same principles are true for Chautauqua. I am grateful for all Chautauquans who have provided me feedback on accessibility issues on our grounds – covering our physical, programmatic and technological offerings. I maintain a long list of accessibility issues and work with my colleagues in Campus Planning and Operations, along with program departments, to address these issues on an annual basis. A list of recent and ongoing accessibility projects is available in the annual IDEA update (visit  

The challenge is that we are a historic neighborhood and only about five buildings on our grounds were constructed after the passage of the Americans with Disability Act. We have much work to do. As I articulated in my column from last week, this work not only makes ethical or moral sense — it is essential as a business imperative, as well. In the spirit of ongoing feedback and listening, I invite all Chautauquans to participate in an Accessibility Listening Session from 4 to 5  p.m. Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, at the Jessica Trapasso Pavilion at Children’s School.  

My overarching goals for this series of columns was to provide insights and practical tips for all Chautauquans on how they can help in our inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility efforts.  

Here are some practical tips that we all can engage in to make our grounds more accessible: First, learn and educate yourself about the experiences of people with disabilities. This includes challenging your own perspectives and what we have been taught about people with disabilities. For example, growing up, I was taught to use language like “wheelchair bound” or “suffers from Down Syndrome.” The more updated language, as requested by people with disabilities, is person-first language without judgments – “person who uses a wheelchair” and “person with Down Syndrome.”  

Second, we can all practice everyday acts of inclusion by removing barriers for people with disabilities. These behaviors might include little acts like moving a chair near a doorway that might impede access for people using mobility devices, limiting our chatter in the Amphitheater that might negatively impact people with hearing loss, or speaking with our kids or grandkids about the importance of welcoming neurodiverse youth in their playgroups. It is perfectly OK to offer assistance to people with disabilities if you think it might be needed, but please ask permission first before you intervene and ask what assistance might be most helpful.  

The principles for inclusion around disabilities are the parallel across other diverse groups – we should avoid making assumptions or starting a conversation by highlighting a difference. Instead, seek commonality.  

We might find ourselves tempted to learn more about someone’s electric wheelchair, but perhaps we start by asking, “What did you think of the lecture today?,” instead. Inclusion is a deliberate, conscious, community act. If we collectively practice acts of inclusion, it will lead to a sense of belonging for all. Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton’s sermon this past Thursday (available on centered people with disabilities and reminded us that we are called to “embrace everyone as children of God.” I invite us all to do our part to live into that calling and to collective create a more accessible Chautauqua. 

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President  
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

Beyond Morals and Ethics: The Business Case for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility

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Last year, I wrote a column in this series making the big-picture case for how the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan supports the business imperatives of the Institution. I thought it might be helpful to reiterate that business case and provide some information on the work that the Institution is doing in these areas. I will also note that I am not articulating the moral, ethical or values-based case for IDEA, because there already is significant consensus amongst Chautauquans on that front. The business case, however, is often less clear.  

The Institution is in a similar position as other arts organizations across the country — the pandemic has resulted in significant shifts in patron behavior and attendance. Many of you likely know this from experiences in your hometowns. This can partly be explained simply by the loss of lives to COVID-19, particularly because our community members tend to skew older. Additional forces have negatively impacted attendance, like COVID-19 forcing people to seek alternative travel or vacation locations closer to home; travel disruptions due to COVID-19, airline infrastructure issues, or climate change; and of course, the continued presence of COVID-19.   

The Institution, like other arts organizations, has known for some time that diversifying our audience needs to be a prime short- to mid-term objective. Each year, our country becomes more racially diverse. If we are unable to invite and retain diverse audiences, we may experience an even further decline in attendance. The Ford Foundation leadership reified this understanding, describing our program offerings as excellent, but noting that we have much work to do in “audience development.” Many Chautauquans had already agreed with this assessment as well and articulated their reasons for supporting intentional efforts to make Chautauqua more diverse during the listening sessions that led to the creation of the 150 Forward strategic plan ( I am grateful to the Ford Foundation for providing a seed grant of $100,000 to help us intensify our efforts to introduce Chautauqua to diverse audiences. We feel it is imperative that we work on inviting a broad array of diversity — younger audiences, working professionals, families with children, and, of course, racially and religiously diverse audiences, to name a few.   

We have started this work already. The Ford monies are being used to develop a comprehensive, multi-year and multi-prong marketing plan with support from an experienced agency. This season, our partners will work with us to generate print and video content to create new marketing materials. In the fall, we will work with them to identify potential, diverse patrons who share a love for our four pillars: Arts, Religion, Education and Recreation. In addition to this external work, there is work we continue to do internally on this front. Where we need to work together, as Chautauquans, is to deliver the best experience we can to new and diverse patrons when they do come to our grounds and programs. The problem with first impressions is that we only get one chance to get it right. With your support and collaboration, we can easily incorporate new Chautauquans into the fabric of our community.   

Another example of IDEA work impacting both the patron experience and the business objectives is around accessibility. Our continuous work to improve the physical, technological and programmatic accessibility of the grounds leads to better patron experience and retention. New initiatives like the expansion of our own mobility scooter fleet not only opened up new sources of revenue, but also led to an increase in gate pass sales when larger numbers of folks were able to come to the grounds because more devices were available for rent. The proceeds from these rentals are slated to support accessibility-related upgrades for our historic grounds. When Chautauquans with disabilities directly benefit from greater accessibility, they are not only more likely to come back for more seasons and bring their families and friends, but they are also much more likely to provide philanthropy to further enhance these efforts or support other Institutional priorities.  

I chose to write this column partly because the larger conversation in society around IDEA efforts is often polarized, with claims that diversity work is either divisive or simply a drain on institutional resources. I don’t think that IDEA offices, generally speaking, have fully articulated the business impact of their operations. I hope that some of the examples I have shared above with you provide greater insight into the strategic work that the Institution is doing to support IDEA efforts, and how they align with Chautauqua’s strategic priorities. I welcome your ideas, reflections and questions. I invite you to an informal discussion time with me at 3:30 p.m. Monday, July 31, 2023, at the African American Heritage House. I cannot do this work alone, and I am appreciative of all Chautauquans who have expressed support or partnered with my office to lean into this work. I am grateful for your continued support. 

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

Why Culture Change is Hard

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This past spring, I attended a conference that had a very high percentage of people with disabilities compared to the general population. In one of the first sessions, the presenters shared their names, titles, pronouns, and concluded with a “visual description” (e.g., “I am a curvy woman wearing a yellow dress with flowers. I am using a walker to move around the room.”). This practice of providing a visual description was a totally new practice to me; I had never witnessed it before. It took me a moment to connect the dots and figure out that this was being done to provide context for participants who were blind or visually impaired. Immediately, I felt a little anxious about what descriptors I would choose to share when I spoke. Do I mention my skin color? Do I mention my fabulous bowtie? What cues would be relevant to share? I found my mind racing because I wanted to do – and say – the right thing.  

Leaning into a new cultural practice can be hard – even for people like me whose jobs are to create positive change and inclusive practices. If you have felt that anxiety, you are not alone. I have had a series of conversations on the grounds this season where Chautauquans have felt comfortable enough to come up to me and ask about cultural shifts happening in the wider society – shifts subsequently reflected at Chautauqua. One Chautauquan was unsure why someone shared their pronouns during a gathering. A Chautauquan stopped me to ask why some of our speakers are engaging in a “land acknowledgement statement” and why we are hearing more of these from our stages (more on this topic in a future column). Another asked why we would have visual printed signs advertising “Braille Menus Available” when people with visual impairments cannot see these signs. At my last job, someone once asked me why there was a baby changing station in the men’s room. The point being: New cultural practices can both pique our curiosity and desire to understand, but they can also stimulate our anxieties. Curiosity and anxiety can exist at the same time.   

In my own experience, I have experienced cultural changes both in the media (more in an observational role) and in my work life (a more direct experience). A Chautauquan recently offered a reflection that is worth sharing here. She remembered the days when smoking was socially and legally accepted in the workplace – not just outdoors, but inside as well! And it was there that she experienced her first major cultural change – when the company banned smoking indoors. It was a shift in company policy, but it was also part of a much larger cultural shift. She reflected that when she retired in the mid-2000s, she was seeing other cultural changes happen around her, especially so in the workplace. Since her retirement, she shared, her community is limited to her time at Chautauqua and at her retirement community in a Southern state. Both of these places, she argued, are more homogenous than any workplace she had ever been in. In many ways, she felt that her connection to — and understanding of — cultural changes had become more constrained. She shared she felt less comfortable with change now because she had fallen out of the practice of adapting to change. Lastly, she shared her anxiety with change was overshadowing her curiosity and desire to understand. She concluded that “she was working on it!” I suspect this experience might be true for some members of the Chautauqua community, and I know it is sometimes true for me.   

I decided to write about this because I want to acknowledge that change can be really hard, especially when we don’t understand the reasons behind it. It feels even harder when we disagree – based on our own assumptions and understanding – on the reasons for the change. Change can also be hard when we fall out of the practice of change and adaptation. Workplaces, I would argue, often create the conditions for change by policy and practice. At work, we have to – willingly or begrudgingly – adapt to change. Our muscle memory for adaptation and change is no different than physical muscles. If we don’t use it, we lose it.   

I also offer this column with the hope that we can collectively do two things. First, we need to have empathy and understanding that change can be difficult, even when we want change to happen. Judging people who are questioning change does not lead to productive dialogue. Second, I believe we have a conscious choice to make: In the battle between our curiosity (or willingness to understand) and our anxieties, we have to choose which we will feed first. If we let our curiosity lead us into a posture of openness, we will ask different questions. We will seek more information before we make judgements. We will try harder to understand, and especially so when we disagree. We will remain in dialogue and do the hard work of seeking common ground. If we choose to feed our anxieties, we will start conversations with a defensive posture, participate in rumor mills or conspiracy theories, and end up in an “us” versus “them” construction of the problem. We have no shortages of the latter model in our society. In my own life, I’m working on balancing that tension – curiosity versus anxiety, dialogue versus debate, common ground versus a winning side. I’d love to sit with you on a Red Bench and learn how this is unfolding in your life.   

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

From Belonging to Love

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This past Wednesday, I attended the Cultural Ethics Series presentation hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chautauqua at the Hall of Philosophy. The speakers were Erroll and Elaine Davis, well-known Chautauquans who are deeply involved with many groups on the grounds, and specifically so with the African American Heritage House. Both took time to speak from their perspective as African Americans on the grounds — how they were introduced to Chautauqua, why they chose to return, why they built a house on the grounds, and why they continue to return to, and thrive, at Chautauqua.   

I am deeply grateful to both Erroll and Elaine for naming the totality of their experience. Similar to the stories I have shared in this weekly column previously, both Erroll and Elaine shared examples of microaggressions individually — being mistaken for other Black individuals on the grounds, touching of hair, and Elaine even being asked if she was the cleaning crew for her own house. The patterns still hold; the two most common areas where things go wrong when interacting with diverse Chautauquans are when conversations start with an assumption or by highlighting a difference. The impact often is a feeling of marginalization and othering.  

Despite naming these examples, what I really appreciated about the conversation was that the Davises were not only willing to be vulnerable in sharing their negative experiences, but they also shared the reasons for their deep and ever-growing love for Chautauqua. They came here when Erroll was invited as a speaker, and instantly experienced the joy of our four pillars – Arts, Religion, Education and Recreation. That sense of discovery — of having found “your people” — is a shared experience for me and the Davises. I suspect it is the case for many other Chautauquans as well. When you find your people — your community — you stick with it. And that is what the Davises did, first by gradually increasing their time on the grounds each year, and then by building a house on the grounds.   

The Davises elaborated on their reasons for making Chautauqua their home, and the answer is simple: community. There are those who might argue that Chautauqua is simply a place. Sure, it is a place. Our historical grounds, our programs, the natural beauty, etc., all contribute to a sense of physical space. However, what binds us to this place are the deep relationships we form with other Chautauquans who seek the wonder, awe and joy of our four pillars. Instead of being in a simple transactional relationship with the Institution (i.e., you buy a gate pass only to receive access to certain goods — like lectures or performances), I hear from many Chautauquans that they come back year after year because of the relationships they have built over time. For property owners this may be our neighbors. It may be the staff or friends who we see every year in the denominational houses. What makes Chautauqua special, and more than just a place, is community.   

One lingering question I had during Erroll and Elaine’s talk was: “What keeps some of us from imagining the Davises (and other diverse Chautauquans) as Chautauquans to begin with?” Is it a lack of many other examples of racially diverse property owners? Is it a lack of imagination? Are there presuppositions, implicit as they might be, about who wants to come to Chautauqua, and who belongs? And if we have these implicit ideas, then how might we counteract them with a different reality?   

One possible answer would be to learn from the experiences of other groups that have established a presence at Chautauqua. The Jewish community, Catholic community, and the LGBTQ community might have some insights to share. I hope to organize some conversations during the 2024 Summer Assembly highlighting different diverse communities and how they established a home within Chautauqua. In the meantime, perhaps we all make a conscious choice to challenge our own implicit ideas by making a conscious choice and assumption: That racially diverse patrons chose to come here, whether it be for a day, week, season or to own a home, because of their shared love for the four pillars. If we practice and remind ourselves of that assumption, perhaps our entry into conversations and our attempts to form relationships might look a lot different.   

Erroll and Elaine made the strong case for the power of community that Chautauqua has to offer. The most memorable part of the talk was when Elaine shared her love for this place, this community and what it stands for, by adding: “I love it here. I want to be buried here.” Elaine and Erroll, through their individual relationships, and through their support of the AAHH, have transformed Chautauqua. In turn, Chautauqua has transformed them. And that is how we move from belonging to love.    

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

Dialogues Make the Difference

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We both serve as lead coordinators of the Chautauqua Dialogues program. Both of us, as high school debaters, learned how to present both sides of an argument and, because we never knew which side of a question we would be assigned in a competition, pro or con, we had to be equally adept at presenting both sides of an argument in order to win.  

We learned a lot about “truth” and “facts” because we needed to have winning arguments regardless of which side of the debate we were assigned. As to “truth,” we learned that there were multiple truths to be garnered from our research. The same with facts. Although one side of the argument or the other might be short on both truth and facts, we learned that we could always find something to support our argument — even though the source presented might be less than credible. But, a debater’s job is to amass the most convincing arguments for their side. And, if that means the truth or the facts might not be as strong as one would like, in order to win it is up to each debater to find a way to present an argument more skillfully than his or her opponent.  

There are numerous, everyday examples of debate, particularly in politics, but not so many examples for dialogue. Those debaters who have strong arguments for a particular position work hard at finding “truths” and “facts” to support their point. The objective is to convince others that they have both truth and facts on their side, then use their presentation skills to overwhelm the listener. The key identifier of a debater is that they are not interested in listening to the other side. Debaters don’t make an effort to listen, because they want their viewpoint to prevail, period. They want a win. Political debates are good examples of this type of engagement; each candidate has a set of “points” they want to put forward in a limited amount of time. And, each candidate has prepared certain “counterpoints” with which to defeat the other candidate’s points. But in the end, each candidate tries their best to convince the audience they are right.  

Unfortunately, since most examples of public engagements are debate, few of us really have much experience with examples of effective dialogue. That is what makes the Chautauqua Dialogues program so exciting. It gives Chautauquans an opportunity to learn about “civil conversations” — conversations where each party is willing to listen to the other and sees how others “connect” the same given “dots” in entirely different ways.   

As Michael Hill pointed out in his closing Three Taps remarks at the end of the 2022 season, Chautauqua plants its roots in dialogue, not debate. Another way to say this, is that conversation is favored over argument. Debate and argument are all about winning. Dialogue and conversation are about exchanging and exploring each other’s views. Many of us have lost the ability or the opportunity to be engaged in thoughtful dialogue with those who might disagree with us. Chautauqua Dialogues ( and the Red Bench Project ( offer us opportunities to rediscover and practice those dialogue skills, and we invite everyone to participate.  

Roger Doebke & Lynn Stahl  
Lead Coordinators, Chautauqua Dialogues 

Friendship Across Boundaries

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This past week was an incredible start to the season as we explored the theme of friendship from our stages. I am proud to say that I suggested and championed this weekly theme, “On Friendship”, because I feel strongly that friendships across difference can radically transform our divided society. Cornel West and Robert P. George were living examples of how we might transcend boundaries – racial, ideological, political, to name a few – and seek a deeper relationship based in love and understanding. 

I know from the questions that surfaced this week that some of us were interested in learning more about the human and scientific aspects of friendships across boundaries, and particularly around interracial friendships. This topic emerged during the first three morning lectures during the Q-and-A section. My deeper read of this recurring question is that many of us seek these friendships, but perhaps not all of us have been successful at translating this desire into action.  

This thread of questions got me thinking: What keeps us from creating and sustaining deeper friendships across boundaries? Marisa G. Franco’s research offered us some insights. She posited that there are three key conditions for organic friendship: Proximity, repeated interactions, and environments that lead us to confide in friends. These three factors made a lot of sense and certainly apply to my own experiences. They can also help us understand the barriers to interracial friendships.  

If we live, work or vacation in homogeneous environments, we are less likely to encounter others who look, think or act differently from us. If proximity is a barrier to begin with, then we can assume that our ability to have repeat interactions is also going to be constrained. This alone should be a clear call for us – all of us – to work toward creating a more diverse Chautauqua community. It also means that we might have to work with intentionality to initiate these friendships, whenever those opportunities might present themselves. Perhaps the most compelling idea that Professor Franco presented was that our self-fulfilling fear of rejection can often keep us from developing new friendships. This fear of rejection might exist for all new friendships, but it might be especially pronounced when we are seeking those bonds across difference. 

If fear is the darkness that stagnates us, then where is the light? Cornel West offered a deep insight in this regard: “It is only up to those of us who make the choice of love and light, which means the choice of being willing to take the risk.” My dear Chautauquans, I implore you to reject that fear, ignore that voice that feeds your anxiety and instead take the risk of initiating something new. The rewards likely will outshine the risks.  

In practice, what might this look like? I will remind you from last year’s columns that the two places where things go wrong in initial interactions with diverse Chautauquans are 1) making assumptions, or 2) starting a conversation by highlighting differences. Instead, we can start with common ground. All people come to Chautauqua for their love of most (if not all) of our pillars: arts, education, religion and recreation. Let’s start there. Seek friendship over a shared love of the symphony. Start a conversation based on our shared appreciation for the offerings of the Bird, Tree & Garden Club. Sit next to someone you don’t know during a climate change talk. They are likely there because they care about similar things. Seek that commonality – the common light – to help grow that friendship organically. If we find our commonality first, we will be able to negotiate the differences with thought and care.  

In last week’s column, I shared that I alone cannot transform Chautauqua to be a more diverse and inclusive community. I invite you to imagine a future Chautauqua where we all get to contribute a small amount by engaging in everyday, transformational practices. If we all work together to create that sense of belonging and inclusion in our everyday lives, we truly will be able to live out our shared institutional mission of “the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life.” Thank you for being my co-travelers on this journey, and may we all grow new connections and diverse friendships in the years to come.  

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer 

On Belonging

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Welcome back to the grounds! I had the pleasure of staying in touch with many of you during the off-season months, and I know that you were as eager to return as we were to receive you back! Many of you wrote some version of “I can’t wait to return to my happy place” over the winter and spring seasons. Chautauqua is indeed that for many of us — a place where we can nourish our minds, our bodies and our souls. Our four pillars of Arts, Education, Religion and Recreation certainly provide us the multitude of opportunities and activities to feed us on a deeper level. However, it is not just the program that brings us back to this magical place year after year. We return, I believe, because we feel like we belong here.   

My Chautauqua journey started about a decade ago when my husband and I visited the grounds for a day. The combination of the morning worship services and lecture platform speakers against our bucolic grounds, combined with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performance that evening left me mesmerized. I felt like I had found my people. I instantly felt like I belonged here. That same evening, my husband and I took a walk down to the Bell Tower and discussed the magic of Chautauqua. We were so enchanted by this place that we walked up to one of the real estate offices to look at what kinds of properties were available for sale on the grounds. We were not too far out of our graduate programs, so our student loans might have kept us from moving in the direction of buying a place right away. None the less, we could instantly imagine a future here. We had found “our people.” We felt like we not only wanted to be here, but that we belonged here.   

I chose to write about belonging as my first column for this season because I think it is an important concept for us to collectively reflect on. What do we mean when we say “I belong here”? Is belonging an intellectual concept? A feeling? A gut reaction? What are the conditions necessary to create a community that widely promotes a sense of belonging? Is it just politeness? Alignment of values? Fun things to do? Perhaps there are no easy or universal answers to these questions, but I imagine that each of us might have our own set of experiences that lead us to that feeling of belonging.   

I know that many of you are not only committed to building an inclusive community, but that you practice everyday acts that promote an ethos of inclusion on our grounds. Belonging might very well be the outcome when a community practices inclusive practices round the clock on a consistent basis. My title as Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Officer places a certain level of responsibility on promoting these values and translating them into action. However, I am just one person and a humble co-companion on our collective journey to become a Beloved Community. In other words, I simply cannot do it alone. I see each and every person who calls themselves a Chautauquan as a key contributor and supporter of these ideals. Our collective practices and openness to inclusion and diversity are going to be key in this work. I am grateful for those of you who have actively engaged in these everyday, ordinary practices. In future columns, I hope to uplift some of these practices for our collective reflection.   

For now, I want to invite you to read the annual IDEA update I published in the spring to highlight the IDEA work undertaken by the Institution over the past year. This update is available at Additionally, I want to extend an open invitation to share your thoughts and ideas with me anytime you see me walking across the grounds. You are also welcome to stop by the Colonnade anytime or come break bread with me at Hurlbut Church most weekdays.   

I will share one last parting thought. In most past jobs I have had, I never envisioned retiring at those institutions. This is not to say that I did not have deep affection and care for those organizations. However, I have felt that connection for Chautauqua long before I started working here, and it has only been affirmed by my experience here. Thank you for making me feel like I belong here. I hope you share that feeling as well. 

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President 
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer

Our Stories & Our Friendships

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One of the things that many Chautauquans like to do is to tell their “Chautauqua Origin Story.” For some, you and your family members have been coming here for generations. For many others, it is often a variation on a central theme — your cousin, co-worker, neighbor or friend introduced you to this wonderful, unique and magical place. You came once and fell in love with it! You have been coming ever since that. Does this sound true for you?  

That is very much my Chautauqua story, as well. My husband and his family are from Chautauqua County, and he even used to work at the Chautauqua Bookstore during his college days. I first came to the grounds around eight years ago. After spending a day here, I instantly fell in love with not only the physical grounds, but the very idea of Chautauqua and what it stands for. There is no other place quite like it. I loved it so much that, at the end of the day during my first visit, we walked up to one of the real estate offices to take a look at property costs. Given our student loans at that time, we might have put the flier back in a hurry! Nonetheless, that feeling of connection was strong, and it was instant. 

I share all of this here to use myself as an example that there are many diverse people out there who care about our four pillars — arts, education, religion and recreation. Some Chautauquans have argued that the only way to make Chautauqua racially diverse is to offer scholarships or financial aid. However, I do think that there is a whole cadre of prospective, racially diverse Chautauquans who would not only be aligned with our mission and values, but who could also easily afford to come here, or even buy property on the grounds. So, how then do we find these individuals and introduce them to Chautauqua?  

I wrote about strategies that the Institution will pursue along these lines in an earlier column (see the July 2-3 weekend edition of The Chautauquan Daily). However, I want to hold up a model that works equally well. I was delighted to know that trustee Gwen Norton and her husband Peter were hosting two different families each week for the entire season with the simple goal of introducing them to Chautauqua. They spent time carefully thinking about people in their network who would appreciate Chautauqua, our mission and our offerings. I had the pleasure of meeting some of their guests, and I am hopeful that many of them will become life-long Chautauquans in the near future.  

Do you have any friends, acquaintances, co-workers or neighbors in your personal network who might enjoy two or more of our pillars? If yes, would any of them add to the diversity of our patrons? I pose these questions to simply suggest that one of our best pathways to diversify Chautauqua is to replicate what we already know works well: when current Chautauquans introduce Chautauqua to their friends and acquaintances.  

Many of you might already know that the opening week of the 2023 season is themed “On Friendship” (see all the themes at I would argue that there would be no better time to invite your friends — especially friends who have not experienced Chautauqua yet — to come and visit with you. In doing so, not only will you have the opportunity to say “thank you for being a friend,” you will also spread and share the love and joy of Chautauqua with others.  

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

The Business Case for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility

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I have had many engaging conversations with Chautauquans this season that have centered around the ethical, moral and values-based reasons that warrant our current efforts and focus on making Chautauqua more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible (IDEA, for short). Many of these reasons are articulated in our strategic IDEA plan (available at and are supported by Chautauqua’s shared values. However, some have offered complimentary thoughts on why this work also makes good business and strategic sense for the long-term vitality of the Institution. I couldn’t agree more.  

The IDEA Strategic Plan supports many of the strategic priorities outlined in the Institution’s larger 150 Forward strategic plan (see A few examples of how 150 Forward’s goals and objectives are envisioned in the IDEA plan are provided below.   

• The Institution has a stated goal of increasing census (i.e. number of people attending the summer assembly season). Part of this increase in census will come from the strategies to recruit and retain new, diverse patrons to the grounds. This work will be especially important for our future as each successive generation of Americans is more racially diverse.   

• The Institution has a stated focus on labor and talent solutions. In a highly competitive job market, our IDEA work will help us create a more equitable and accessible workplace and will help us achieve our goal of becoming an employer of choice. Advancement in these areas will also encourage more applicants, including diverse applicants. Strategic growth in this area could help us address some labor shortages happening on the local and national level.   

• The Institution has a stated objective to “optimize the Summer Assembly Season on the Chautauqua grounds to provide a first-class experience.” The IDEA plan outlines several strategies that will enhance the Summer Assembly Season for all existing and new Chautauquans, including enhanced dialogue offerings, ethnic food options and greater accessibility for all. This, in turn, will help with our census goals listed above.  

• The Institution has a stated objective to grow and diversify revenue. There has already been evidence of significant support for IDEA-related philanthropy to start this work, and we will continue to engage Chautauquans who are interested in funding this work — especially so around accessibility. Additionally, the IDEA plan provides pathways for the Institution to serve as a convener of professional organizations interested in IDEA work, which could lead to new conferences, online programs, etc., all which could generate new revenue streams.  

The Institution has a stated objective to “expand Chautauqua’s convening authority year-round to broaden its impact beyond the Summer Assembly Season.” The IDEA plan envisions partnerships with businesses, professional organizations and nonprofits (e.g. inviting organizations with “employee resource groups” to participate in our online and year-round offerings, including CHQ Assembly, Mirror Project, book reads, etc).  

The select examples presented here show the interconnectedness of the IDEA plan to the Institution’s larger strategic direction. When a plan makes good ethical sense, is consistent with our values, and makes good business sense, then it makes it all the more worthy of our collective attention and support.  

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer   

The Chautauqua Way: Open to New Perspectives, Seeking to Understand

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As a relatively new Chautauquan myself, this past week gave me greater insight and hope on how Chautauqua can model a different path forward when it comes to controversial subjects. Last year, a few Chautauquans expressed concerns about a drag show on our grounds. Some of the feedback was generally based on a lack of understanding about the connection and significance of drag to LGBTQ history. In the absence of that understanding, some folks may not have fully understood the historical and contemporary relevance of drag as a performance art. For this reason, and based on requests we received from members of the Chautauqua community who wanted to understand more, we organized an educational lecture to open a dialogue.   

Many Chautauquans, including those who were ambivalent about drag, showed up to a packed Smith Wilkes Hall this past week to hear Ms. Gloria Swansong’s lecture on “LGBTQ History: Drag as Performance Art.” The audience members asked thoughtful questions, and the result was an engaging dialogue. The lecture seems to have convinced a diverse cross section of the audience to see a professional drag show. The LGBTQ and Friends Community Group held a drag show at Norton Hall that same evening, and not only did the show sell out, they had to turn away over 100 people at the door. What was even more impressive was the extremely diverse audience by age, race, sexuality and gender. Just like we did at the ABBA concert, both 18-year-old and 88-year-old Chautauquans found common joy in yet another art form.   

I would like to note that this sort of disagreement is not new for Chautauqua. In 1979, when we had the first production of Equus, there was controversy about nudity as part of that performance, along with plays offered that same season that had “strong language and adult homosexuality.” One reviewer wrote the following: “No one has to like these three plays. And no one has to approve of their language, nudity and homosexuality. But no one ought to dismiss them, out of hand, just on account of the controversial content, because the plays are serious statements about life, society and the human conditions as found today, and ought to be judged by how much light they throw on the subjects they address.”  

The arts have always pushed boundaries for society, and new art forms did not come to Chautauqua easily. To learn more about Chautauqua’s struggles with theater, dance and jazz coming to the grounds, I recommend that you look at one of archivist Jon Schmitz’s digital contributions to the Heritage Lecture Series on “Entertaining Gate Crashers — How Theater, Dance, and ‘All That Jazz’ Made it on to the Chautauqua Platform” on CHQ Assembly. Yes, at one point, theater as an art form was offensive — even blasphemous. Where would we be today without the Chautauqua Theater Company, or without jazz performers like Wynton Marsalis?  

All of this is to say that we have been here before, and we will experience contention again. Some Chautauquans worry that we might be moving too fast. Others feel that we are long overdue for changes and that we are not adapting quickly enough. Our strategic plan clearly outlines this tension as part of our shared values: “A balance between Chautauqua’s heritage and the need to innovate.” How then, do we strike the right balance? How do we lean into change without destroying our traditions? How do we engage in dialogue without casting aspersions when we disagree?  

There are some important lessons to be learned from this instance. The chance to hear a different perspective and to be in dialogue seems to have created greater understanding; empathy for someone else’s history may help us understand their reality today. Chautauquans came to the lecture and listened with good intent and open hearts and minds. Not everyone might agree that drag belongs on our grounds, but they have more information on why others might feel differently.   

We could have handled this issue as a community exactly how our larger society generally deals with controversy — by not engaging in dialogue. We could have gone back to our camps. We could have drawn lines based on our existing beliefs and understanding. We could have demonized the “other.” But, as a community, we made a conscious choice to listen, seek understanding and build empathy. That, my friends, is no small feat. Could this be our secret ingredient to change the brokenness of our world? It gives me hope that Chautauqua might illuminate this as an alternative path forward for us and the rest of society.  

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

A Crash Course in Accessibility

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One focal area of my job is to work toward a more accessible Chautauqua. I think of accessibility broadly, including physical, programmatic and technological accessibility. Chautauqua Institution has made a public commitment to do an accessibility audit in its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan (available at To be clear: We believe we are compliant with the law, but our shared values call us to do more.   

Last week, I had a profound experience with Chautauqua’s accessibility. I was invited by Chautauquan Terrie Vaile Hauck to accompany her on a loaned mobility scooter. I am writing about this experience with her permission. On our ride, as we navigated curbs, uneven pavements, narrow bathrooms and lobbies, it became even more clear to me that we have a lot of work to do. I made long lists of high-priority items. Some of these are quick and easy fixes, such as moving garbage cans closer to the pavement. Others, like installing an elevator in Hultquist, require time and significant resources (in this case, $350,000).   

The most profound part of my ride-along experience was the frustration I felt when I could not access buildings because there was no automatic door opener button or ramp to make it accessible. Well, it wasn’t exactly just frustration. I also felt sad because I felt like I didn’t matter. In a community that values the dignity and contributions of all people, no Chautauquan should ever have to feel like that. As Terrie put it, “When you are in a wheelchair or scooter, sometimes you just become invisible to the rest of the world.” While a two-hour scooter ride doesn’t even scratch the surface of understanding the full experience of people who have mobility challenges, it did provide me with some empathy and insight. Thank you, Terrie, for challenging and educating me.   

You may have already noticed some expanded accessibility offerings at the Institution. In addition to assistive listening devices, we are now also offering braille transcription services for Chautauquans who are blind or have impaired vision. Braille menus are available in all Institution operated food establishments. There is a new landing spot on Children’s Beach for folks to park their scooters and wheelchairs. The Tuesday Bestor Fresh Market is also now set up so that all tables are lined up right next to Pratt’s paved surface. Our main gate parking lot has new ADA-compliant parking spots. The upcoming food festival will have multiple entry points for mobility devices. The list goes on. And yet, there is much more to do.   

I had previously invited an accessibility expert to be on our grounds during Week Six and help with these efforts. Unfortunately, she had to cancel because of a medical issue. Nonetheless, I plan to host two public listening sessions on accessibility this week at the Jessica Trapasso Memorial Pavilion at the Children’s School (an accessible location) from 4 to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Friday. If you are unable to make it, please feel free to send comments to 

I am of the firm belief that the longer you come to Chautauqua, the longer you live. Chautauqua is a place where we can rejuvenate our minds, bodies and spirits. If we become more accessible, then perhaps we will create better conditions for Chautauquans to continue to come to these sacred grounds for longer into their lives.   

The Institution has done significant work on accessibility already. Each year, we do a number of capital improvement projects around accessibility. The number of buildings on our grounds that were constructed after the passing of the ADA can be counted on one hand. Our grounds are historical, and the list of accessibility enhancement projects is long. If you would be interested in discussing how you could enhance or accelerate our efforts in this area, please call my colleagues in the Advancement Office at 716-357-6404, or email 

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer   

Creating Empathy: Differences, Assumptions and Understanding

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Last week I wrote a column in this weekly series on how the most common sources of exclusion experienced by diverse communities at Chautauqua generally center around two themes: highlighting differences and making assumptions. Many of you stopped me on the grounds to share how helpful that column was, how it made you think, and the ways in which it provided concrete examples of how things might go awry. Others commented that they were working on more proactive, inclusive approaches to starting a conversation that avoided these missteps. The feedback was overwhelmingly helpful and positive, and I am grateful for your willingness to receive it with open hearts and minds.    

However, I had one interaction with a Chautauquan that was extremely different and difficult. I was approached in a public space and asked, “How many of those examples did you make up, or was all of it made up?” To be honest, I was shocked to hear this question. At the center of it, I felt that my integrity as a human and as a professional was being questioned. It instantly brought back memories and stories common to me, and other historically marginalized individuals, of when our pain and our experiences are directly questioned, dismissed or ignored. When those instances happen, it feels like an affront to our human dignity.    

In my daily life, I try to practice grace and “presupposition,” a Jesuit concept that invites us to approach situations with the best possible interpretation at the forefront. However, in that moment of affront, I was unable to do either. I did retort with a strong response, that I was offended that my integrity was being questioned. I was neither kind, nor patient. I did not wish to seek dialogue. I was hurt, and I wanted the other person to know that. Such a strong and closed response is extremely rare for me, but it was how I truly felt in the moment. To their credit, they did apologize. It took me a moment to gather myself and explain how the comment landed. We moved on to other topics.    

It wasn’t until later that evening that I realized something important — that I failed to understand the question from their perspective. The comment came from a Chautauquan who likely (to the best of my knowledge) has not experienced these instances of exclusion themselves on the grounds. Additionally, if we don’t experience these moments ourselves, then we might be less likely to recognize or see these instances when they are happening right in front of us. In short, they fall outside our reality and our understanding of the world. In their Chautauqua, these examples did not happen. That was an “a-ha” moment for me.   

I’m sharing this to create an invitation for all of us to practice grace and radical empathy for each other, especially when we disagree or see the world differently. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt when their lived experience does not match mine. Instead of questioning their interpretation, I ask, “Please, tell me more.” If we do that, then we can approach conversations from a place of dialogue, and not debate. We can seek deeper understandings, build bridges to seek common ground, and affirm each other’s dignity. This is easy to preach, and hard to practice. Put yourself in the shoes of this Chautauquan. How would you approach this conversation differently? What might you say?   

This experience affirmed for me that we need to create greater dialogue and space for historically marginalized communities to share their stories within the wider Chautauqua community. This is a specific goal of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan (available at, and I look forward to creating those opportunities for conversations in the future. For now, let’s work together to build love, compassion and understanding, in whatever way possible.   

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

Collective Approaches to Building the Beloved Community

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This week’s column was inspired by a few recent conversations with Chautauquans who have asked for advice on what they can do better to create a more welcoming and inclusive community — particularly for diverse populations who are new to Chautauqua. In a similar vein, The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan (available at asks us to move from conversations of unconscious bias to a more proactive stance of conscious inclusion. This question reflects the commitments of many Chautauquans to translate their values (like a desire to be welcoming and inclusive) into concrete action steps.   

In my role, I get to hear a range of experiences, from those who feel a sense of true inclusion and belonging, to times when we collectively miss the mark. As such, I see myself as both the “keeper of the stories” and the “storyteller” as I reflect back on the common themes I frequently hear. There are many stories of diverse Chautauquans who have experienced what Martin Luther King Jr. called the Beloved Community. From time to time, however, the most common sources of exclusion generally center around two themes: highlighting differences and making assumptions.   

I believe (and know!) that many Chautauquans are actively trying to welcome diverse communities and individuals to the grounds. However, I have heard from some diverse guests that when a conversation starts with highlighting a difference, it may make them feel like an outsider. Examples include someone starting a conversation with a Black individual with “Your skin is so beautiful, I bet you never get sunburn!” Others might involve touching someone’s hair without their consent, because it “looked so unique.” For others, it might be a comment about their accent or their ethnic clothing. Those who have shared these stories with me have the same refrain: “Why not seek the commonality first, rather than starting with the difference?” As one person put it, “We are all here at Chautauqua because we love the four pillars. Ask me how my day is going, or what I thought of the lecture this morning. Seek our shared experience first, not the difference.” My advice is to do exactly that — start with the commonality, and if you are able to build rapport (with special attention to social cues), the conversation might naturally evolve to more intimate topics.   

The second theme of exclusion has to do with assumptions. Some Chautauquans of color attending the Dance Theatre of Harlem reported being asked if they were family members of the performers. Later that evening, a different group asked them if they were art students. A person who uses a manual wheelchair reported that a stranger came up to them and said, “You’re not going to be able to make it up the hill. I’ll give you a push.” Sometimes, diverse Chautauquans are misidentified and assumed to be someone else (for example, staff of color being mistaken as Chautauqua Theater Company actors, or property owners cleaning their own porch being asked their hourly cleaning rate.) In some instances, these might be genuine attempts to start a conversation. Despite the intent, the impact is off-putting for many. My second piece of advice would be to not make assumptions. Instead, ask broad questions. Open-ended questions often lead to better conversations.  

I know that for some Chautauquans, these might be hard things to hear. In addition to the two basic recommendations above, I invite us all to think about how we might respond if we witness such actions happening in front of us. How can we, as a community, approach our peers and invite them to consider alternative approaches? Chautauqua is about lifelong learning, and I hope that we can approach these conversations with open hearts and minds. If you’d like to be in further discussion on this topic, I invite you to attend the Hebrew Congregation’s Shirley Lazarus Speaker Series at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Smith Wilkes Hall, where I’ll be probing these ideas. All are welcome.  

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer   

Where to Start? With Each Other.

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Guest Column from Chautauqua Dialogues

The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan asks every Chautauqua community group not what Chautauqua Institution can do for us, but together what and how community groups and the Institution can implement the plan? 

The plan asks us to align our mission and vision statements, as well as our actions to help accomplish its objectives. Chautauqua Dialogues has identified a key “Shared Value” in the plan as the foundation for its initial focus for action: “Dialogue to achieve enhanced understanding that leads to positive action.” 

Over the last 11 years, Chautauqua Dialogues has created a methodology for conversation that facilitates a level playing field for discussion. A key mechanism provides participants an opportunity to reflect on what resonates with them from the lectures they hear and a path to articulating their thoughts and feelings in a civil manner.  

Chautauquans have the opportunity to participate as either dialogue participants or as facilitators. We have created a curriculum for training Chautauquans who wish to become dialogue facilitators. Training is open to everyone and encourages short-term residents to participate. It begins online during the off-season and continues during the season when experienced facilitators mentor newcomers in live sessions.  

Our program emulates the tradition of training Sunday school teachers that began in 1874 at the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, the first Chautauqua Assembly. John H. Vincent believed that Sunday school teachers must have appropriate training to be effective in leading their classes. The coordinators of Chautauqua Dialogues believe likewise. Just as John H. Vincent and Lewis Miller developed a prescribed course much broader than Bible lectures, the founders of Chautauqua Dialogues have developed a course that not only teaches techniques for a great conversation, but also provides course materials and instruction that emphasize how different cultural forces impinge on our ability for civil and open discourse. And, just as Vincent and Miller planned for teachers to return to their communities to do good work, we too plan for our facilitators to return to their communities to do good work. 

Chautauqua Dialogues is blessed by partnerships with 12 denominational houses and Hurlbut Church that act as host venues for the program. This has allowed the Dialogues to increase the number of opportunities for Chautauquans to enter into sessions at 14 different locations on different days and times on a weekly basis. 

Chautauqua Dialogues gives people an opportunity to enhance their Chautauqua experience by becoming more than a consumer of information. Now, Chautauquans have the opportunity to engage with others, learn from others and see how others perceive information in a much different way than they do themselves. We want every participant to see how important it is to listen to others, be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings, and know that their opinions have value. 

We are hopeful that our dialogues model a different path for our community and our nation — particularly to stay in conversation with others. You can find out more information about our offerings and reserve a spot for yourself at We welcome all to participate.  

Roger Doebke & Lynn Stahl 
Chautauqua Dialogues Lead Coordinators 

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