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Widener President to Share Model for Civil Dialogue at South by Southwest Education Conference

wollman, julie wollman, Widener president, common ground

Widener University President Julie E. Wollman will highlight the Common Ground Initiative at South by Southwest Education Conference on March 8.

Widener University President Julie E. Wollman will join a prestigious lineup of innovators and educators presenting at South by Southwest Education Conference and Festival (SXSW EDU) in Austin, Texas this week. At the conference, she will highlight Widener's Common Ground Initiative – a university-wide initiative that has grown to be a national model for challenging the polarization plaguing our society.

Wollman and National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen will present a featured session titled "Free Speech and Civil Dialogue Online and On Campus" on Thursday, March 8 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

The need for civil discourse has never been more important or more urgent, yet on campuses and on the web today, the right to free speech has itself sparked debate. Rosen and Wollman will explore the future of free expression and strategies for facilitating civil dialogue in campus settings and online.

"Widener University continues to lead the way in modeling respectful listening to diverse perspectives and civil discourse," said Wollman, who is nationally recognized for her commitment to building community and creating bridges across varying perspectives. "I'm excited to share our model with educators from around the nation, and hopefully, inspire others to seek common ground through listening and engaging respectfully on challenging topics."

At Widener, Wollman has led the university's commitment to seeking common ground through respect, mutual understanding and unity. It is part of the university's culture, where people value the opportunity to share different thoughts and experiences and to learn from the diversity on our campus.

Wollman launched the Common Ground Initiative in the fall 2017 semester. It began with a Nov. 14 event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia that explored the intersection between free speech and civil discourse in modern America. The event drew more than 200 members of the Widener community and involved an hour-long panel discussion featuring Wollman, Rosen and Delaware Law School Dean Rodney Smolla.

Following the panel, Widener students led breakout discussions that allowed audience members to share their thoughts through an innovative approach that emphasized understanding, empathy and advocacy – all through a framework of civility.

The initiative is continuing in the current semester with another innovative approach – small group discussions that bring together students, faculty and staff to explore the principles of common ground. The groups of 12 to 15 people look at what's involved in having challenging conversations while listening to one another respectfully and learning from different viewpoints.

Widener's Political Engagement Committee, which seeks to engage students in discussion and debate, is also emphasizing advocacy and engagement this semester and holding table talk events that find their roots in common ground. Meanwhile, faculty members are continuing intergroup dialogue training sessions, designed and led by faculty, to help guide professors through thoughtful discussions about our collective similarities and differences, and prepare them to more deeply explore challenging societal issues in the classroom.

To learn more about the Common Ground Initiative, visit Widener's website.


The SXSW EDU® Conference & Festival cultivates and empowers a community of engaged stakeholders to advance teaching and learning. The annual four-day event affords registrants open access to engaging sessions, immersive workshops, interactive learning experiences, film screenings, early-stage startups, business opportunities and networking. SXSW EDU is a component of the South by Southwest® family of conferences and festivals. Join the passionate and innovative community at SXSW EDU, March 5-8, 2018 in Austin, Texas. For more information, please visit

Widener University

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,