Alma College and Braver Angels, a national organization dedicated to promoting civil discourse, joined forces for an impactful series of events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Over 50 students and faculty participated in Braver Angel’s Depolarizing Within workshop, which empowers people to identify polarizing language and positions, providing them with tools to actively depolarize their perspectives. The workshop complemented the college’s annual MLK Jr. Day brunch and community engagement events on campus.

A team of six volunteers including David Joseph, the Blue State Coordinator for Braver Angels in Michigan, facilitated the event in close collaboration with Dr. Benjamin Peterson, Co-director of the Center of College & Community Engagement for Alma College. The team split the participants into three groups, which both students and faculty attended. Also attending was Jeff Abernaty, President of Alma College.

“I am grateful for the efforts Braver Angels is making to help bridge the deep divides in American society today,” said Jeff Abernathy, president of Alma College. “Our American democracy was founded on such work, and it can only be maintained by continuing to work to develop those ‘habits of the human heart’ necessary for citizenship.”

The nearly two and half hour Depolarizing Within workshop is one of Braver Angel’s most common trainings. It challenges participants to understand how stereotypes and negative language about “the other side” start with day-to-day conversations with like-minded individuals. And, it provides participants with tools to “depolarize” that language and offer alternative perspectives that create respectful and productive dialog. 

David Joseph, Blue Coordinator for Braver Angels in Michigan, added, “While our nation is built on robust and healthy disagreement about challenging issues, it’s critical that we approach these conversations with respect. We are grateful for the opportunity to engage these students and the next generation of leadership to ensure we’re building a house united for the future.”

In their post-workshop evaluation, which was anonymous to protect student’s political preferences, participant’s takeaways included:

  • “Learning practical dialogue tools for depolarizing and descalating situations. I think these tools will be helpful in all areas of my life.”
  • “It is important to acknowledge the other side of an issue, knowing that all opinions have rational reasoning.”
  • “It is so important to create a connection with someone before offering a new perspective.”
  • “Judge the policy, not the person.”

Ramping up into the 2024 election year, Braver Angels Michigan is hosting events across the state.

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