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      Common Ground

      Common Ground Initiative is a Model for the Nation

      Common Ground

      Finding Common Ground

      Widener University President Dr. Julie E. Wollman, National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen, center, and Delaware Law School Dean Rodney Smolla discuss civil discourse.


      More than 200 people from the Widener community gathered at the National Constitution Center this month for a program that explored the intersection of free speech and civil discourse in modern America, and kicked off the university’s new Common Ground Initiative.

      “The First Amendment: Finding Common Ground in a Polarized World,” involved an hour-long panel discussion followed by student-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.

      Widener President Dr. Julie E. Wollman said universities are special places because people get to know each other as scholars, learners, athletes and more all before they get to know one another’s deeper political points of view. The focus is on learning and growing, which is fundamental in the search for common ground.

      Common Ground

      A National Model

      Small group breakout sessions at the National Constitution Center gave students the opportunity to sit alongside faculty, staff and alumni for an exercise in ways to find common ground.

      At Widener, there is a commitment to seeking common ground through respect, mutual understanding and unity. It represents the university’s culture, where people value the opportunity to share different thoughts and experiences. Wollman explored these principles during the panel discussion where she was joined by Delaware Law School Dean Rodney Smolla and moderator Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

      “We have a model we’re trying to put forth that changes the way we interact with one another and advance these issues,” Wollman said.

      Rosen said the initiative is just what the country needs.

      “Citizens online and in the public square are talking to people who agree with each other and are refusing to deliberate and are refusing to reach out for common ground,” he said. “So this initiative you’re engaged in is not just a civic or academic enterprise, it is central to the future of American democracy which is why it’s important that you have a visionary president who is determined to make your university a model for the kind of engaged civil discourse that the future of democracy requires.”

      Sixteen students underwent training with political science faculty members in order to lead the morning’s breakout sessions. “It’s taught me skills of how to talk to people, but leaving my opinion out, and having an insightful conversations,” student facilitator Jack Lee, a junior political science major, said. “These are things that are useful for civil discourse.”

      Sophomore Lauren Geitz, also a political science major and a student facilitator, said she valued Widener’s emphasis on keeping an open mind and taking care to listen.

      “When you hear different opinions it expands your viewpoint,” Geitz said. “I think it’s good when administrations listen to students and have conversations with them.”


      Learn more about Widener's Common Ground Initiative.


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