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Students Find Hope for the Future in an Unexpected Way: A Conversation with a Stranger

Morgan Lasher

Morgan Lasher

Feb 15, 2022

Nov 28, 2022

Chicago, IL (Feb. 15, 2022) — Unify America, a cross-partisan nonprofit on a mission to build problem-solving and civics skills, partnered with professors and staff members across twenty universities for its second Unify Challenge College Bowl.  

Over five nights, 634 student participants from across the country joined the virtual Unify Challenge to share perspectives across differences and strengthen their civic muscles. 

Here’s how it worked: Two college students—total strangers from different schools with different political leanings or backgrounds—were matched into a one-on-one guided video conversation to talk about big goals for the country. 

One participating student put it this way: “Initially the challenge felt intimidating, but after meeting my partner it was an eye-opening experience. I learned that it is possible to disagree yet have a respectful conversation. It was reassuring to see another person who identified as a moderate as I feel it is stigmatized. It made me feel more confident in the future of our country.”

The student pairs report finding more agreement than they expected as the partners walk through 24 different goals for America with topics ranging from free speech and criminal justice to immigration and education.

In fact, according to a post-Challenge feedback survey, 74 percent of student participants feel more hopeful about the future of the country, and 91 percent would recommend the experience to a friend or family member.

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Professors, too, reported success across their diverse classrooms ranging in subjects from political science 101 to business communications.

“We all have a role to play in keeping the republic, and part of that is learning to have productive conversations with people who are different from you. That's what the Unify Challenge does,” explains Weber State professor Leah A. Murray, Ph.D.

For the professors, the Unify America team offers materials for their classrooms, a unique college landing page for student sign-ups, a student attendance dashboard, and an impact report with the post-Challenge data. 

“This activity allows us all to choose to value listening and engaging respectfully, to push back against the noise machine encouraging us to see each other as our enemy,” adds Bill Lyons, Associate Dean at the University of Akron. “By choosing to listen, we are enacting the change we want to see in the world.”

First piloted in October 2021 with ten universities, the Unify Challenge College Bowl more than doubled its participation among students, staff, and colleges for its second nationwide College Bowl in February. 

Universities, colleges, and centers include Brown University, Chicago State University, College of DuPage, Colorado State University, Dixie State University, Elmhurst University, George Fox University, Lone Star College-Tomball, Miami Dade College, Northern Illinois University, Simpson College, St. John's University, University of Akron, University of Denver, University of Illinois Champaign, University of Illinois Chicago, USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, UVA Center for Politics, and Weber State University.

Dr. Murray sums up the program in this way: “Having done variations on this theme for 20 years—trying to get students to talk across campuses—this is the best way we've done it.”

For more information on Unify America or the Unify Challenge College Bowl, please visit www.unifyamerica.org/college-bowl.

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