With Congressional gridlock occurring consistently in American politics and everyday citizens refusing to even speak with people who hold opposing political views, it is not always easy to meet someone who is willing to listen to your beliefs without dismissing them. But one UVa student is trying to change this with a project whose name mimics its mission: “Converge UVA.”
The idea came to second year student Jackson Wilkins when he was thinking about the effects of this hostility on constructive political thought and conversation. To fix the issue as it exists at UVa, the intended government major and a group of his friends created an online survey designed to match two students with opposite political beliefs or party affiliations and to encourage them to meet.
Here’s how it works:
- The student is asked to take a political affiliation quiz and fill out a survey with his/her results and availability.
- The student will be given a coffee/lunch date with someone from a different political affiliation.
- These two people will get food, get to know each other, and talk about political views and opinions with some guiding questions from Converge UVA’s creators.
Some of the questions include:
- What political topics do you care about the most?
- What personal experiences have shaped your political views?
- What do we agree on?
But Wilkins says the program is not just for people with strong political beliefs.
“Anyone who wants this avenue of engagement in different perspectives is welcome, even if they’re still forming their political opinions,” he says. To him, the project is a great way to not only understand the other side, but also to sharpen your own views.
Wilkins tells WUVA News that the goal is to help people realize that behind political beliefs there are “real people with real stories,” something that he realized early on in his life. Growing up in conservative Mississippi, the liberal student had to learn how to communicate with people who did not think the way that he did.
“Out of necessity I really had to find ways to find common ground so that we could reconcile our differences and move forward together,” he explains.
Overall, the creators of Converge UVA just want to bring about some change, even if it is small.
“We need people to recognize that there are areas where we can move forward together despite the intense political polarization and vitriol of today’s political climate,” says Wilkins.
He hopes that the project will be a step toward finding a way to “humanize the other side.”
“It helps to find common ground with people who disagree with you and hopefully find ways that people with different beliefs can come together and move forward.”