WeListen is a grassroots, campus-based organization at the University of Michigan working to bridge the American political divide through small-group conversation. Our goal is to spark political discussion (not debate!) between students from all across the political spectrum.
Following the 2016 presidential election, polarized politics wedged an ideological divide between students on campus. In an effort to understand the basis of opposing viewpoints and humanize peers with whom our views differ, WeListen is taking action to bridge the political divide.
What began as 20 students discussing immigration policy has become a catalyst for connection and compassion across all pockets of campus. In just one year, WeListen has held discussions reaching over 90 participants, tackling wide-ranging issues such as gun rights, free speech, and abortion while developing partnerships with student organizations and faculty across campus.
Our evenly-split executive board of conservatives and liberals has prioritized intellectual diversity. Thanks to a focus on outreach to conservative student groups, our dialogues represent conservative voices at a rate 10% higher than the overall student body, allowing for more balanced and representative political discussions. Additionally, a brief presentation at the beginning of each session and an unbiased fact sheet on the issue makes it possible for attendees with varying levels of knowledge to feel comfortable participating in the discussion.
The diverse dialogue that WeListen fosters goes far beyond easing political tension. We are creating a more connected campus that values divergent viewpoints as an opportunity to grow and learn. At a WeListen session, “winning” isn’t convincing another person to adopt your views and values, it is making the effort to understand theirs. We think that’s pretty awesome.
Funded by Ann Arbor, MI (January 2019)