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Wooster receives grant to fund talks with community

New “Living Room Conversations” will connect town residents and student population in Wooster

Lexi Riley
Staff Writer

On Sept. 11, 2017, the non-profit organization Campus Compact announced The College of Wooster’s selection as one of only 40 colleges and universities to receive a $5,000 grant. The money will fund a campus initiative to strengthen bonds between the surrounding community and Wooster students.

Campus Compact created the Fund for Positive Engagement following the 2016 election in an effort to encourage higher education institutions to pursue ideas for repairing the divisions among people in the United States. The College of Wooster joins other elite schools such as Yale, James Madison, Tulane and Lehigh in garnering recognition for its grant proposal. Entitled “Bridging Along Beall Avenue: Living Room Conversations to Connect Campus and Community” the program aims to foster ,understanding and respect between the town and student population in Wooster.

“We hope to influence students’ perceptions of the town’s residents and residents’ perceptions of the campus’ students in ways that may last beyond the program events themselves,” explained Dr. Denise Bostdorff, a professor of communication studies at Wooster and the lead member of the grant submission team. “We also see our efforts as a pilot project to determine if these types of conversations can effectively bridge campus and community.”

The program, conceptualized by Dr. Angela Bos (political science), Dr. Rohini Singh (communication studies), Dr. Desiree Weber (political science), Nate Addington (director of civic and social responsibility) and Bostdorff, addresses the perceived political and cultural disconnect between Wooster students and town residents. “Wooster students have routinely reported harassment, hate speech and even altercations with passing drivers along Beall Avenue, and those reports seemed to spike after the 2016 Presidential election,” Bostdorff described. “In addition, many students view the conservative town where they live in stereotypical ways as backward or even dangerous, perceptions that seemed to harden after the election.”

Involving a series of Living Room Conversations — guided civil conversations between individuals of differing viewpoints — the program will consist of five different groups, each composed of three students and three community members. “We are meeting this Wednesday to discuss some of the details for recruitment so I cannot provide specifics yet,” noted Bostdorff. “I can tell you, however, that we are working with community organizations to help locate Wooster residents to participate and that students on campus will be hearing about the program very soon.”

From January through March 2018, participants will meet for two guided discussions — one at an off-campus residence and one at an on-campus residential space — as well as a joint day-long service project.

The group members will then share their experiences with the campus and town community through various mechanisms, such as social media and visual displays on campus and in the town square. They will conclude the experience with a celebration.

“We will be using assessment tools to help us measure effectiveness to determine whether the project could be expanded in scope,” Bostdorff indicated. “Our hunch is that when people get to know each other through shared activities, greater understanding can take place.”

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