Gephardt News

Common Ground Grants Catalyze Dialogue and Foster Culture of Engagement

In an increasingly divisive political climate, intentional and productive dialogue is more important and necessary than ever. With this in mind, the Common Ground Grant program seeks to catalyze the campus community in developing strategies to repair, address, and prevent polarization at Washington University and in the St. Louis community.

Common Ground Grants are one of several key components of a new university-wide initiative, Engage Democracy. The other programs housed under Engage Democracy include voter engagement, a Public Service Fellows Program in partnership with the Brown School, and a series of Engage Democracy workshops. Common Ground Grants are an essential part of the initiative’s aim to facilitate an engaged, informed, and empathetic culture of political involvement.

In the spring 2018 semester, four grants were awarded to fund projects that aimed to foster discourse and cross ideological boundaries:

Community Art Wall
“It was our hope the wall would transform into a space for dialogue to respect, understand, and celebrate our greater diversity of voices and experience, while working to transform our student body to become the future WashU for everyone.” —Lyle Hansen, graduate student in Masters of Architecture and Masters of Urban Design tracks

The community art wall was inspired by Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” lecture last October in the Sam Fox School. Her chalk wall was reinterpreted by the Office for Socially Engaged Practice and two student organizations, the Graduate Architecture Council and Women in Architecture and Design. The prompts discussed issues around perception and experience and served as a platform for open conversation on assumptions in contrast with reality. Prompts included “I heard St. Louis is … And to me, St. Louis is…” and “I want to design in a world where… and I want my creative work to affect…” among others. The hope was to utilize the space within the heart of the Sam Fox School to make visible the many experiences, differences, and desires of the students. This wall became a place for the community to come together and challenge each other, using the wall as a space for creative exploration and dialogue.

Dismantle, Design, Rebuild
“We believe Dismantle, Design, Rebuild started the conversation necessary to forge a unified, and therefore strong, change-making community on campus.” —Eva Nip ’18

Dismantle, Design, Rebuild was a three part event series over the course of the month of April. Designed to be open to graduate, undergraduate, faculty, and community members, the direct focus audience was student activist leaders in cultural, activist, and/or political groups. Through the series, Design for America (DFA) sought to support the change-maker community. By using design thinking principles and tools, the project’s goal was to help build bridges between other student groups passionate about social change so that groups could collectively mobilize their resources to accomplish large-scale shared goals. The first workshop was facilitated by Creative Reaction Lab. The second event, facilitated by Design for America, was a design sprint using the human centered design process. At the final event, community members and activists discussed their work and next steps with students.

The Love Wall
“[The] Love Wall is an alternative form of a wall to the border wall and is meant as a symbol of inclusivity.” —April Bednarski, PhD (Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology)

In April, an alumnus, Ranjeet Ahluwahlia , brought his Love Wall Project to the Washington University campus. The Love Wall Project is an interactive art installation aimed at inspiring and motivating individuals to be kinder to themselves and to others. Rolled out in the New York City subway, at the New York City Pride Parade, and at the New York City Comic Con, the installation engages people to cultivate and to act on positive intentions. Through the expansion of the walls to universities, the aim was to actively engage students and faculty in identifying and communicating what’s common among us. Each Love Wall panel was comprised of an image of characters from enijiMONDO, an animated series authored by Ranjeet, combined with a mosaic of 400 assembled sticker notes, taking up a 5 x 5 foot space. While each note is separate, when put together they create an inspirational message. The Love Wall is being rolled out and hosted at many other sites around the world. On July 22, replicas of 50 love walls were displayed on either side of the USA/Mexico border wall in San Diego with people invited on both sides to write more messages and color parts of the wall as a celebration of love and acceptance.

Interfaith Immersion in St. Louis
“Faith can be an entryway into students’ understanding of their identities and how they pursue social justice and inclusion.” —Purvi Patel (Assistant Director, Center for Diversity and Inclusion)

Students participated in an off-campus spring break immersion experience focused on the intersection of faith and social justice in St. Louis utilizing inter-group dialogue methods. To prepare for the immersion, students participated in two pre-trip retreat days which exposed them to dialogue framing, norms, and context for the St. Louis community. The trip consisted of a series of talks, workshops, reflections, and community service experiences designed to introduce students to how different faith traditions understand and enact social justice. The trip worked to increase students’ understanding that all major world religions incorporate beliefs regarding service and social justice, and that these traditions are able to work together to fight injustice despite sometimes holding conflicting theological and political views.

Applications for Common Ground Grants are reviewed on a rolling basis. Grant proposals should reflect non-partisan and non-polarizing efforts to engage the campus and/or local community across the political spectrum and encourage learning across differences. To submit a proposal or learn more about how to get involved in the Engage Democracy initiative, visit our website.