As the speech culture on many campuses has changed in recent years, including a big increase in shoutdowns and shamings for unapproved speakers and ideas, a new, student-led group formed in 2016 to provide environments on campus for the practice of responsible and thoughtful discourse.
BridgeUSA was recognized by the HxA Open Mind Awards Committee for its commitment to convening students on campus to foster much-needed dialogue. Its name is apt. Founded by Roge Karma, a University of Notre Dame sophomore, the organization immediately identified polarizing topics on which to base year-long conversations. Students quickly signed up and the exchanges began in earnest.
The success of the project at Notre Dame spawned chapters at other schools and, today, BridgeUSA chapters exist on 22 university campuses. Their rapid growth reflects the vitality of their mission and the appetite for it on campus. In April, BridgeUSA hosted its first national summit in Dallas, which brought together politicians and influential business, civic, and student leaders from across the political spectrum to work towards revitalizing our democracy.
Given the Gallup/Knight Foundation recent survey on student attitudes towards free speech and our own data about the changing climate on campus (as told through our skeptics blog series), there is little doubt that certain individuals and groups feel they cannot safely air their perspectives and arguments for fear of ostracism or distress. This reluctance to voice opinions inhibits the development of quality research.
In essence, BridgeUSA was a response to the current climate on many college campuses. Instead of partisanship, BridgeUSA seeks to establish “transpartisanship,” whereby students move beyond the ideological parameters defined by our conventional politics and focus upon ideas instead.
By coming together to have honest, respectful, and, potentially impassioned conversations, students learn how to debate without demonizing. BridgeUSA has done an outstanding job creating these opportunities for mutual understanding across a growing number of campuses, which is why we are proud to recognize its initiative and success with the HxA Open Mind Award for Outstanding Student Group.