This story was originally written by NC Campus Engagement and is posted here with small edits and additions from Ryan Nilsen to highlight UNC-Chapel Hill students’ experiences.
On March 25, four student teams from three North Carolina Campus Engagement member institutions – NC Central University, UNC-Chapel Hill (two teams) and William Peace University spent seven hours exploring how to ensure trust in democratic elections. This was the inaugural Redesigning Democracy Competition (RDC). The competition is designed to bring together students, ideally from across the political spectrum, to deliberate on topics related to democracy that are either contested or in need of reform and intervention and to find common ground for action. RDC is an opportunity for students to engage in and practice the skills and habits of citizenship. The event was hosted on the campus of William Peace University.
“One of my biggest takeaways from participating in the Redesigning Competition was the ability to have productive discourse with those I don’t agree with,” said Jaleah Taylor, a UNCThis program made me realize we have more commonalities than disagreements and if we can have meaningful and productive discourse, then we can make efforts toward creating solutions on our country’s most pressing issues.”
The event began with a four-hour interactive Common Ground Workshop on Ensuring Trustworthy Elections facilitated by members of the Braver Angels Alliance of Central North Carolina (BAACNC). Started in 2016, Braver Angels (BA) is a national organization that is working to depolarize America by building new ways to talk to one another, participate in public life and influence the direction of our nation. This Common Ground workshop is part of the BA national Trustworthy Elections Campaign. BA is hosting a series of Common Ground Workshops across the country to bring together individuals across the political spectrum to look for common-ground ideas for establishing trustworthy elections. The RDC session is the first workshop that exclusively involves college students.
After the workshop, each campus team had an hour and 15 minutes to develop a presentation proposing their idea for how to address the issue. The students proposed innovative and impactful ideas including: creating a “clear intent” ballot curing policy, limiting corporate political involvement, promoting more civic education in middle and high school and promoting government funded election engagement including developing a nationwide voter registration and voter education education week after the Fourth of July.
“I often find it difficult in college to have thoughtful conversations about politics with other students,” said Seth Moore, a senior double-majoring in public policy and history with a minor in Spanish. “As a student who is in the minority, in terms of political affiliation, at UNC, I found the Redesigning Democracy Competition as a great opportunity to not only share my opinions with like-minded students, but to also share my views with students who likely disagree with my views. The discourse at the event was great! I believe all students found that they not only had a lot in common, but that it is indeed possible to discuss politics with those affiliated with a different party than yourself.”
A panel of judges from the BAACNC scored the presentations and selected two teams to win the top prizes (a $500 cash prize to the campus and $100 Amazon gift cards for each student team member). The other two teams will receive a $150 cash prize plus $10 Amazon gift cards for each team member. Funding is provided by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
“It was amazing to work with students who identify as both Democrat and Republican to create solutions to our polarized times,” said Durga Sreenivasan, a sophomore UNC team participant studying public policy. “Our winning pitch included a civic education curriculum that spanned Middle School and High School, covering areas including: how to have respectful discourse in an age of polarization, the importance of local races, and how to register.”
The collective $650 in prize money that UNC students won will be used over the next year to support similar civic and election engagement efforts on UNC’s campus.
The UNC student teams consisted of Seth Moore, Austin Cook, Durga Sreenivasan, Jaleah Taylor, Greer Christy, Lily Monte, SPark and Jerome Roy. They were advised by Sarah Smith, Musopa Kalenga, John Stephens and Ryan Nilsen.
See more pictures and read the original story on the NC Campus Engagement website here.