Belonging in the ‘Burg discussion encourages progressive conversations among diverse groups in Ellensburg

Yohanes Goodell and Zileni Milupi

Friendly chatter and the scent of brewed coffee wafted across the Hal Holmes Community Center during the Belonging in the Burg: Building Bridges discussion on April 8. The Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Commission of Ellensburg hosted the event at the Hal Holmes Community Center located in the Ellensburg public library. 

The Belonging in the ‘Burg conversation was first held last year with the main goal of creating a welcoming community among residents in Ellensburg who questioned their sense of belonging in the city. 

Interim Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima District & Kittitas Counties Carolyn Thurston explained the need in Ellensburg for these types of conversations. 

“I think there’s often a pretty homogenous group of people who want to connect people and communities, and in order for it to be more effective, we have to reach out and become more accessible to people who might not look like us,” Thurston said. 

Planning process

President Wohlpart at the Belonging in the Burg discussion. (Yohanes Goodell)

According to Public Information Officer for the city of Ellensburg Nicole Klauss, the city’s DEI Commision was looking for a way to engage the community and connect a diverse group of residents for meaningful conversations. 

“The commission thought it would be a great event to bring to Ellensburg as we try to start increasing inclusivity and start making people feel more welcome,” Klauss said. 

After coming up with the Belonging in the ‘Burg event last year, members of the DEI Committee and city council worked together to come up with the direction of the discussion. 

“We wanted to bring people together to talk about topics they may agree or not agree on,” City Council member Nancy Goodloe said. 

Goodloe explained that the world cafe model was used for the discussion. According to Klauss, the world cafe model is a commonly used small group discussion model that has facilitators and people talk about specific questions in groups to encourage more intimate conversations. 

Using the model, participants of the event were divided into different groups and given four questions to discuss for 10 minutes with a facilitator. 

Theme and concept

According to Goodloe, last year’s theme was belonging and what that looked like to different people. She explained that the purpose of this year’s theme, ‘building bridges’, was to have an extension of that conversation.

“We had questions around the idea of what it means to belong and how you feel and what does it take to belong,” Goodloe said. “This time around, we were talking about building bridges through relationships.”

Thurston stressed that the purpose of the event was not to try to solve problems or fix issues of inclusivity in the community, but instead to create a safe space for these conversations. She explained that this year’s event was to encourage people to talk about their lived experiences in Ellensburg.

 “College students may not feel very connected to the community or to downtown or certain organizations within the town,” Thurston said. “For example, there’s this big divide between the university and the school district, and so you might be talking about the desire to see bridges between the school district and the university, and how that might happen.”

Carolyn Thurston & Nicole Klaus. (Yohanes Goodell)


Each participant had a talking stick during the discussion to symbolize their turn to speak. After 10 minutes, participants would move to a different table with a different facilitator leading the discussion. 

One key feature of the event was the use of live translators for the Spanish speaking members of the community. Attendees who preferred to listen to the discussion in Spanish were given headphones that would allow them to listen to live interpretations.

The event in fall of 2022 saw an attendance of between 65 and 70 people, according to Goodloe. This year’s attendance consisted of about 45 to 50 people, which Goodloe said is more than she expected considering this year’s event took place during Easter weekend. 

Reactions and hopes for the future 

“We talk a lot about divisions between people, and not a lot of people [are] doing things about it,” Former CWU Communication Professor Paul Backlund said. “This is an event that tries to build bridges between different groups, different cultures and different ethnicities.” 

Klauss said they hope attendees leave with a lasting impact.

“Hopefully, people leave and have learned something new that they can take into their everyday lives,” Klauss said. 

Goodloe emphasized the importance of finding common ground in the community.

“I think sitting around a table where you have people from the Hispanic community, people from the Black community and people from other groups talk about how they feel and how they know they belong is important,” Goodloe said. “So when something happens in the community, we are stronger because we have that understanding and knowledge and acceptance of other people.”

Updated for accuracy of names and titles.