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BridgeND mitigates political gap on campus

| Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Seniors Sean Long and Alex Caton sat on Long’s dorm room couch in St. Edward’s Hall last year and dreamt of a student club that would shrink the partisan gap on campus and give politically active students a place to discuss politics in a constructive way. Their vision was realized this year with the creation of BridgeND, for which Long serves as the president and Caton as vice president.

Long said the traditional campus party model leaves little room for both sides to connect productively with one another, a problem BridgeND seeks to rectify.

“We noticed a gap on campus in the way people talk about politics,” Long said. “We found that, traditionally on college campuses, what you have is the College Democrat-College Republican model.

“We found a gap in that there’s no real connection between the two. It’s not that they need more competition; it’s just that they need connection, both between College Democrats and College Republicans and Democrats and Republicans.

“What BridgeND sees is, to tackle that gap, we offer a place to talk about politics in new ways. And by new, we mean ways that are both constructive­ — in that we bring students from the left, right and anywhere in between to talk about politics constructively — and we talk about politics in a way that is actionable — in that we try to generate our own proposals for a debate and actually have students see themselves as change agents.”

Long said the club’s goals are threefold: to foster constructive and actionable debate, to promote a sense of camaraderie between members, regardless of political ideology and to connect politically interested students to their ideas.

“The goal for BridgeND is for students to see themselves as change agents in politics,” he said. “For example, our primary meeting structure revolves around bridge negotiations. We take one issue area and extend it to about a six-week period and over a period [of] three to four meetings, we actually dive into the issue.”

Long said the club currently is addressing the issue of student debt in the context of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., student loan refinancing bill that fell two votes short of being able to survive a Republican filibuster.

Long said members, also known as “bridgers,” set out to define the issue and hear from an expert either on-campus or via video call during the first meeting. Members then divide into three “beams” — Democratic, Republican and mediator — and discuss the issue from these points of view. Finally, members of each beam develop a concrete proposal to the issue at hand and in the next meeting, present the proposal to the larger group before holding a vote to decide which of the proposals will receive the club’s “Bridge endorsement.”

Long said this process might not always lead to a consensus, but the respectful dialogue it creates ultimately will help people from anywhere on the political spectrum better understand important issues and how to talk about them practically.

“It’s almost taking partisanship and seeing how we can still transcend that,” he said. “It’s ambitious. We talked to our members [at our last meeting] about how you define success, and we realize that we might not come to an agreement, but that doesn’t mean that we failed. The most important part is that we got people talking — both inside the meeting and outside the meeting.”

Long said the club also sponsors events, such as an Oct. 2 lecture presented by Philip K. Howard, which BridgeND co-sponsored with the Potenziani Program in Constitutional Studies. Additionally, Long said the club will promote any event held by other campus clubs so long as they can develop questions about the event that inspire constructive, actionable dialogue.

Long said the club plans to hold an election-night event in November to “unite people socially in a way that doesn’t normally unite politically-inclined people.” The next night, he said BridgeND hopes to host a professional politician to analyze the election results from his or her point of view.

BridgeND meets Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. Any students interested in joining should email moderate@nd.edu.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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