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Saturday, January 29, 2022

‘Common Grounds’ Project Brings Students Together Despite Political Differences

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Although the political color of Virginia’s executive leaders shifted from blue to red in last week’s statewide elections, the political arena has been just as divided as it was last year when Democrat Joe Biden won the White House and after a rebellion January 6 at the Capitol.

That’s when a group of five University of Virginia students interned at the Center for Politics came up with the idea to make a documentary to see if they could encourage their peers to bridge political divisions.

“We started the semester in a tense national political climate,” said Raed Gillim, a fourth-year foreign affairs student who directed the film group’s project “Common Ground,” which culminated at the documentary’s premiere on Thursday.

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Students began the spring 2021 semester of enrolling in the center’s associate director training course Ken Strobe without being able to do much in-person activities due to the pandemic, so they brainstormed for other possibilities.

“Our idea was to have people do one-on-one interviews, share their honest opinions on free speech, civility, ‘abolition of culture’ and similar topics, and then bring them together in a group to see if they can talk about it and have a good conversation,” Gilliam said. UVA said today Earlier this year, after students painted the Pita Bridge with the message, “There is common ground on our land.”

“Interns who are selected to work in the program area of ​​the Policy Center are usually able to work on something they already feel passionate about,” said Glenn Crossman, director of programs at the center, who supervised the students. Projects in the past have included outreach to public and private schools, and full-day programs hosted on the ground, such as voter registration and other education programs.

The free premiere will take place in person and Thursdays at approximately 7 p.m. in the Rotunda Dome Room. Masks are required for personal attendance. Next, the filmmakers will discuss their project. registration wanted.

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The 30-minute documentary includes one-on-one interviews with students of very different political beliefs. Small group discussion brings six of these students together; And the scene in Beta Bridge that became a sort of “grand den”, an idea the students launched into the film to bring together those who participated.

click here Watch the trailer (which begins with footage from the August 2017 “Unite the Right” riots, when white supremacist groups descended on UVA and Charlottesville).

UVA Today registered with the interns who answered some questions via email. In addition to Gilliam, who describes himself as a centrist politician, the interns are Molly Hayes, who describes herself as a progressive and helped direct the documentary; Thomas Driscoll, a moderate Democrat who has worked on social media; Shaun Beowar, a government pioneer who worked in production and describes himself as a conservative Republican; Miranda Hurts, who describes herself as a liberal and has also worked on production as well as challenging Common Ground, is the next phase of the project.

Said Driscoll, also a participant: “I hope that viewers will come away with a sense of hope about the future of our country despite the current challenges.”

Q: How did the documentary appear in your opinion?

Glim: It really came together! We were really able to get a sense of where the students are when it comes to a whole range of issues. …whether it be conflicting with students’ different opinions in one-on-one interviews or group dialogue, people will come out of this with a better idea of ​​the range of opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives that college students have.

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Filming and editing was completed before the elections which was already a major issue for most of the students. However, with the documentary being released a little over a week after the state government elections, it could certainly affect the reception this film has. How, I’m not entirely sure, but it will be interesting to see people’s reactions to the film and how it relates to the state of local politics.

Brewer: I was thrilled with the openness and honesty of our participants; It’s scary to tell your unfiltered political beliefs to strangers, let alone do it in front of the camera. The whole project was about finding people from a range of viewpoints eager to share their opinions, and luckily we found them.

s. And the goal of the project, to get people to talk about their different points of view – how was this done?

Driscoll: While the filmmakers could choose a group of participants who were relatively close to each other on the political spectrum or were friends with them, they instead chose the most politically active and vocal people on Earth. To illustrate this point, we literally had the heads of each of the Yemeni armed forces [Young Americans for Freedom, described on its website as “advancing the conservative movement on Grounds”] and YDSA [Young Democratic Socialists of America, whose website stresses learning to “be empowered to fight against the most pressing social justice issues impacting our communities”] The two most opposing political clubs on the ground are involved. As a result, just having a civil conversation was by no means guaranteed, yet that is exactly what happened in the end.

Glim: People certainly did not hold back. Some of the students were diplomatic and may have chosen their words carefully, but the difference in viewpoints was evident to all – even in the personal group discussion. There was also a real uniqueness to a lot of people’s answers. We tend to make a lot of assumptions about people based on what they post on social media or what they look like, but people are a lot more complicated than naming!

Hertz: We’ve got people open about their opinions, but I’m not sure we’ve managed to change anyone’s mind. I think we exposed the participants to opinions that they might not have considered otherwise, so we succeeded in that regard.

In terms of the climate now, I think it’s still as polarized and tense as ever. Trump has a lot of influence over elections big and small.

What brought people together, or made them feel synergistic?

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Hertz: I think with the realization that although they have different beliefs or opinions, they also have things in common. Many shared liking the same TV shows or music, and found that commonalities brought people together.

Hayes: I think humor was the most I’ve seen bringing the participants together. Whether the humor was due to malfunctions arising from setting up the camera’s equipment, or humor related to the daily events of UV rays, it allowed the participants to gain a point of shared experience.

Brewer: I think the sheer fact of being together physically, in the same room, in the middle of an epidemic, has actually played a huge role in creating a sense of togetherness. Much of the division manifests itself on the Internet, where we are physically separated from one another and do not experience the fullness of human interaction, making discussions poor and unproductive.

Q: What was the most surprising thing that came out of the discussions?

Glim: The level of respect, friendliness, and sense of camaraderie was certainly surprising. Many of these students are the heads of some of the most vocal political groups on Earth, yet they couldn’t have been more poised and respectful of each other, via some radical differences.

Hayes: For me, the most surprising thing that came out of the discussion was the way the participants interacted with each other off-camera. Of course, there was tension and hesitation, but on a human level the participants seemed to enjoy the company of the other participants.

Driscoll: Everyone featured in the movie was very vocal about their opinions, but when it came time to sit together in a room, they were all very generous and respectful towards each other. For me, being a part of that conversation and talking to people I strongly disagree with has been so rewarding. I honestly didn’t expect the conversation to be quite as civil and substantive as it ended up being, and it frankly gave me a sense of hope about the future of politics in our country.

Q: How do you compare the political climate then and now?

Driscoll: I would argue that the 2020 presidential election, and indeed the entire Trump presidency, really defined the political climate on the ground, both when we were filming and now.

When watching the film, it is important for viewers to remember the fact that Charlottesville was the site of unspeakable violence only four years ago. The Unite the Right rally was truly a watershed moment for our country, yet for those who have worked on and been involved in this project, it has been – and remains – deeply personal. Charlottesville is our home and having something like this here has had a profound and lasting impact on the way we view the world and, in turn, shape our own political views. Having students from across the political spectrum sit together while the memory of Unite the Right remains vivid really speaks, in my opinion, to a lot of the significance behind this project.

Brewer: The shooting was all done before the state elections, but I think the state elections are a new link in another chain of events (we touch on them briefly in the movie) that affected the climate at UVA and thus the experiences of our participants. The tense political climate in this country is unfortunately something we will have to deal with for a while, which is why we tried to do something about it in the making of this movie.

Q: What next?

Hertz: We will be launching the “Common Campus Challenge” soon. We will encourage other schools and universities from around the country to do what we’ve done: bring students from different backgrounds and political beliefs together and engage in conversation covering a range of topics.

DriscollThis campaign will encourage high school and college students from all over the country to come together and try to find common ground for themselves. We think this campaign will be particularly relevant given the huge amount of attention that politics has received in schools and universities. As the premiere approaches this week, our work to promote political dialogue among young people is just beginning.

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