Nearly 200 students from 26 colleges and universities joined in last week’s 2020 Common Ground for Action (CGA) Cross-College Campus forums, an annual event convened by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI). Students spent a week deliberating on issues like policing, free speech and the inclusive campus and voting as part of NIFI’s With the People Initiative.
At the end of each forum, students shared their thoughts about participating in a CGA forum. “I think that I was able to learn a lot more and see different perspectives I wasn't aware of. A real eye opening experience!” remarked a student. Another student noted, “I actually think a chat room is better because it makes people feel less vulnerable and allows them to express their opinions more.” Not lost on this year’s participants is the role deliberative forums play in helping democracy work as it should, as one student put it, “I agree politics is too polarized and individuals are forgetting the most important part of democracy: talking respectfully with individuals with opposing views to meet in the middle.”
“This is a huge undertaking every year,” said Kara Dillard, faculty at James Madison University and organizer for the event. “Each CGA forum requires a moderator and we try to have fellow students in that role." Students moderating forums for other students is a win-win, Dillard said. "The moderators learn critical leadership and online facilitation skills and participants get to have a conversation led by a peer. For them, the conversation feels more intimate and real.” This year, students from Virginia Tech, University of Houston Downtown, and University of California Riverside moderated along with long-time veteran CGA moderators Camila Fischer, Tracy Rogers-Tryba and Sarah Read.