Common Ground reaches over 1,000 students and alumni

Whether you vote red or blue, as UW alumni, together we represent Husky purple. That’s the principle behind Common Ground, the UWAA’s civic engagement effort. Led by UW Impact, the UWAA’s legislative advocacy organization, Common Ground featured perspectives from across the political spectrum and across the state. Republicans and Democrats gathered together in dialogue at events that ranged in format, from online to moderated discussion. Other events asked Huskies to explore civic engagement. Altogether, Common Ground engaged more than 1,000 alumni and students this year, showing that more unites us than divides us as a Husky community.


Engaging in dialogue. UW Impact started the year with their annual Legislative Preview event, titled “Higher Education and the Rural/Urban Divide,” where they kicked off the Common Ground project. That was followed shortly by the first Common Ground event, Drinks & Dialogue: Bridging the Divide, on February 6. Huskies gathered at Central Cinema, where they watched a selection of TED Talks on civil discourse, politically diverse friendships and having better political conversations. UW Tacoma Professor Riki Thompson, who penned an op-ed in the Seattle Times about dialogue on campuses, then led an interactive conversation on the challenges and rewards of talking with those who hold opposing views. The event gave participants a chance to practice having difficult conversations in a fun and casual setting.


Going digital. After the 2016 election, UW alum Bo Zhang began a personal project called Between Americans. This year-long project invited people across party lines to engage in political dialogue to better understand one another. On May 2, UW Impact hosted a Facebook Live discussion bringing together two UW students who sit on different sides of the political spectrum. Bo moderated a conversation between Alex Guerrero, treasurer for the College Republicans, and Kalani Tissot, president of the Young Democrats. They discussed misconceptions they face on campus, experiences where their beliefs have been challenged, roadblocks to reaching an understanding across differences and what has worked when building community across the divide. With this conversation, Bo, Alex and Kalani explored the forces that make political dialogue so difficult and how to move forward through understanding and by focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us.


Expanding the campus conversation. The Facebook Live discussion brought together two students on both sides of the political divide. The next Common Ground event, Red and Blue Makes Husky Purple, expanded the conversation to include the entire student community. Hosted by ASUW and UW Impact, the event brought together students and alumni for a mix of activities and moderated discussion at the HUB Lyceum on May 16. Two prominent UW alumni — former Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, and former Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican — took the stage and discussed their experience working across the aisle. Students were divided into groups arranged to have diverse political views for activities centered around finding common ground. Anne Williamson, newly elected president of the Young Democrats, and Chevy Swanson, president of the College Republicans, were grouped together. The Daily later reported that it was the first time they had ever sat down and had this type of conversation, showing the power of the event and creating a starting point for further dialogue.


Examining America at the movies. Art has a special way of reaching us, touching our hearts as well as our minds and helping us see things from new perspectives. UW Impact sponsored the June 3 and 4 screening of The King at the Seattle International Film Festival. The King is a documentary that uses the life of Elvis Presley as a metaphor for America. The filmmaker took a road trip across the country in Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce, staging backseat interviews with famous and everyday Americans, covering issues of class, race, consumerism, addiction and militarism among other subjects. Huskies were offered access to discounted tickets, and the event was promoted


Registering to vote. Taking part in elections is one of the most important ways to make your voice heard to legislators. Recent surveys also tell us UW voters are likely to be civic-minded and engaged in their communities — in other words, citizens who make informed decisions at the ballot box. That’s why UW Impact focused on spreading the word about voter registration. Along with sharing information about registering to vote online, UW Impact was there at the University Book Store when 2018 graduates were picking up their caps and gowns. They registered people to vote, helped them change their voting address if needed, handed out goodies (like the “Huskies Vote” mints, pictured above) and gave grads the opportunity to sign up as higher education advocates. Civic engagement among all Huskies — that’s the mission of Common Ground and UW Impact.


Want to find more Common Ground over the summer? Check out the program’s summer reading list and join an online conversation here.

(Article reposted from the UWAA’s Common Ground webpage)