A new student organization at Southern Miss aims to bridge the divide between people of different political views by matching those with opposing views to engage in conversations.
The organization, Converge Conversations, works by having students fill out a form online that evaluates their political stances and their time availability. This information is then entered in an algorithm that matches students with different views and the same time availability. The students are then alerted about their match. By that point, it is up to them if they want to meet with their match and participate in discussions. A conversation guide is made available to students and a moderator can attend their discussion if wanted. Participants will also have the opportunity to give feedback on how their meetings went or why they did not want to meet with their match.
If the organization is successful and receives a high number of participants, it hopes to expand and potentially host events, such as panels and seminars.
Kelli Shoemake, president of Converge, says that she heard about the organization, which has chapters at several different universities, from a friend at the University of Virginia and was inspired to start a chapter at Southern Miss.
Shoemake, a junior social work major, said she wanted to start a chapter at Southern Miss to get people of different ideologies talking and for them to see the individual behind their opposing political views.
“I know that at Southern Miss, we tend to have a very polarized political atmosphere, so I think that it’s important that we recognize that there are humans behind political labels,” Shoemake said.
Shoemake emphasized that the point of Converge is not to try to change other people’s opinions, but rather to make connections with others that see differently than you do.
“I want us to make a point to connect to each other. Make a point to know each other and understand that everyone has these different experiences and different backgrounds that play into why they believe what they believe. Converge isn’t about convincing. It’s not about arguing or debating. It’s about finding the human,” Shoemake said.
Lauren-Hunter Gaudet, a junior political science major, serves at the dialogues chair of the organization. As the dialogues chair, she will provide suggested topics and questions for discussions and moderate discussions.
Gaudet said she hopes that Converge will allow students to engage in meaningful and thoughtful conversations to raise awareness for issues that affect everyone, not just themselves.
“Students need to be exposed to opinions or facts that they’ve never heard before or that they disagree with because that’s how we can form our own ideas,” Gaudet said. “I want Southern Miss students to participate in conversations, not arguments. I think political discourse can become easier and beneficial for everyone if we can learn how to properly and politely convey our opinions and listen to other’s opinions.”
Students should be able to sign up and be matched with someone in the following weeks. For updates, like Converge Conversations at Southern Miss on Facebook.