Building acceptance: Students celebrate difference at Common Ground

Sasha Weilbaker, Senior Writer

Over the course of the five days marking fall break, Oct. 6 to Oct. 10, 48 University students gathered at the Forrest D. Brown Conference Center at Cowan for Common Ground, which, according to the University’s website, was “dedicated to exploring topics relating to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender.” The goals of the retreat included raising student awareness of personal and societal biases, understanding diversity, equipping students with the tools needed to be agents of change, and improving campus climate to retain underrepresented students.

The retreat was led by student directors Laura Poulton ’18, Ariana Fisher ’19, and Brishti Mandal ’20, and was facilitated by 10 previous Common Ground participants. Mike Duignan, Director of Campus Activities and Student Organizations, served as the program’s faculty adviser.

“Common Ground is definitely an amazing experience, as this is a program designed for students by students. The opportunity for participants to open up and be honest and raw with their emotions and overall experiences is what really provides that life-changing experience,” Duignan said.

He continued to state that Common Ground was especially important this year because “we really have seen a lot of polarization across the country and world. In these times, a program like Common Ground is so important because it looks to bridge those gaps and provide the opportunity for open dialogue across individuals and communities.”

Poulton, who has been involved with the program for three years, has become more passionate about the program every year.

“Common Ground is important because it creates a space where students can be vulnerable with one another, and have conversations about power and privilege based on their individual experiences,” Poulton said. “Students from very different backgrounds can empathize with each other, and this helps build a safer, more connected, accepting, and ultimately more inclusive Bucknell community.”

Although the retreat this year followed a similar structure as it has in previous years, this year’s directors chose to change the ways they presented the many aspects of identity.

“The retreat is activity-centered, where we really try to get thinking about consequences of living our identities in an active, role-play experience. It is the people involved that makes every retreat very unique,” Mandal said. “Common Ground enabled me to celebrate my being in a time and place where it is least expected. Better even, I am not in this alone.”

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