Can higher education curb polarization?

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AshokaU Duke
This article originally appeared on Medium

We see the effects of polarization everywhere — from our online communities to our college campuses. And yet, rather than deepening divides, what if higher education offers a powerful opportunity to build bridges across differences? Beginning in July 2019, Ashoka U, the Fetzer Institute, and a consortium of six colleges and universities embarked on a journey to discover how it might be done.

Together the group launched the Working Across Differences project and offered grants to post-secondary institutions to support new, creative campus-wide initiatives that connect people across differences. It quickly became clear that bridge building is a skill — and a mindset — that is critical for everyone, including students, educators, and even institutions, to embody if we are to ever overcome the polarization that plagues campuses.

At the culmination of this partnership, all of us came together to distill our learnings. Here are the four key principles we discovered.

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Here are the four key principles we discovered:

  • Start with yourself
  • Create a fabric of trust
  • Foster spaces that bring in others
  • Lean into “small radical shifts”: sustained change happens incrementally. Change in large systems, like in colleges and universities, happens in small radical shifts — the “seeds” for a garden of possibility.