The Christian Science Monitor

The anti-Washington: College group offers a model for debating politely

Seniors, and roommates, Mimi Teixeira (l.) and Geralyn Smith (r.) participate in a political 'speed dating' event sponsored by BridgeND in September. Source: Alfredo Sosa/Staff

At the start of his freshman year, Rogé Karma finished up an evening hockey practice and joined the throng at the University of Notre Dame student activities fair, where groups were passing out information on everything from the Juggling Club to the Smart Woman Securities investment group.

He was looking for the College Republicans and College Democrats. He found the GOP denizens first. Rogé, who was apolitical at the time, asked if the group held discussions and debates because he wanted to learn more about pressing issues. “The guy actually laughed,” Rogé says.

Disappointed, he wended his way through the maze to the Democrats’ table. The young woman there told him they sometimes talked about issues in the news, but primarily they campaigned for candidates and causes. How could he campaign, he thought, when he didn’t even know where he stood?

Rogé felt “politically homeless.”

Just then, something caught his eye at a nearby table: side-by-side pictures of Presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. He had stumbled across a nascent College Moderates group, which drew him in with plans to hold a discussion on reforming student-loan programs. But Rogé and his like-minded friends soon realized that attracting only middle-of-the-roaders wasn’t addressing the real need, either: a place where people who have fundamental disagreements can actually talk without berating each other or threatening bodily harm. 

So they created one.

Meet the bridge-builders – the young adults on college campuses trying to shape a culture that better reflects values they see as essential to their education and to American democracy. Their mission goes beyond national debates about free speech and civility. It’s about “responsible discourse,” they say – embodying respect, honesty, and a willingness to really hear one another.

By bringing people together to share viewpoints that don’t necessarily fit neatly into left and right

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