The intense polarization of American culture has also found its way into the academy, such that while nearly all universities purport to challenge students to expand their intellectual horizons, many campuses often foster ideological isolation. While religious identity can sometimes work to transcend these sociopolitical silos (as discussed in the first charrette), it can also contribute to self-separation and insularity among students. Students often select institutions that reinforce their religious and/or political values, join affiliated groups on campus, and make numerous other choices that diminish opportunities to meaningfully engage with peers from differing backgrounds, further fraying our civic fabric both on- and off-campus. In response, many colleges and universities have piloted new cross-institutional civic education programs designed to foster a renewal of democratic values, including a commitment to free expression, religious liberty, social cohesion, and bridging deep divides.
This charrette will examine two such programs as an invitation to both adoption and adaptation. The first, “Bridging the Gap: Dialogue across Difference,” brought together students from Oberlin College in Ohio – known as a bastion of liberal thinking, where students are frequently dismissed as elite, intolerant “snowflakes” – and students at Spring Arbor University – a private, Christ-centered, liberal arts school in Michigan, whose students are labeled as conservative, intolerant evangelicals. The second program, “Politics in the Age of Trump: Speaking Across Our Differences,” featured a collaboration between Cairn University, a Christian university outside Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Kevin Brown (Spring Arbor University), Tina Grace (Bridging the Gap), Meredith Raimondo (Oberlin College), and Jonathan Zimmerman (University of Pennsylvania) will share their learnings from these and similar experiences and challenge participants to reflect on what civic, dialogical programs they can implement at their institutions.