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Converge U.Va. is what our community needs

U.Va. and the country could benefit from engaging with different perspectives

<p>The program works by pairing two students with different political affiliations to go on a coffee or lunch date.&nbsp;</p>

The program works by pairing two students with different political affiliations to go on a coffee or lunch date. 

Converge U.Va. is a new student-led initiative on Grounds which seeks to alleviate political tensions among students at the University. During a time of ever-increasing political polarization, Converge U.Va. will expand political discussion by giving students the opportunity to hear from across the aisle. While both the University and Charlottesville have taken multiple forms of action — from demonstrations to policy changes — pure conversation is often overlooked. With the Converge U.Va. initiative, students can explore an additional avenue for change, while potentially finding common ground in an opposing political viewpoint.

Jack Wilkins, a second-year College student, led the initiative’s development. Wilkins acknowledges in a Facebook post that change may not happen solely through conversation, but it is an important first step. People need to hear from the other side in a productive manner; where each side comes in with an open mind and a willingness to hear their own perspective contested. Charlottesville, and America as a whole, is finally opening its eyes to the underlying tensions and disagreements among its members. Our need to grow and unite as a community has been hashed and rehashed. Demonstrations are a great — and sometimes, the only — way to bring attention to important issues. However, in making change, we need to expose each other to unfamiliar ideas and viewpoints.

Converge U.Va. has students fill out a Google form that asks them to describe the political issues which are important to them, rate their political leanings and mark the times they are available to be matched with a partner. When Converge U.Va. matches a pair, it will provide each student with a list of questions to guide them through a potentially difficult conversation. The questions will also encourage a productive discussion rather than a debate. While discussing politics, particularly with those that may not share the same perspective, it’s important for students to be self-reflective and to think about what shapes their political views. Converge U.Va. offers students an opportunity to articulate those views to others and to have them challenged.

As the General Election approaches, students should do their best to keep an open mind. When researching the candidates, one might start with the their political affiliation. However, there is a lot more to a candidate than their political party. There are the issues they represent, their leadership experience and the intentions they have for Virginia if  elected. While perhaps influenced by it, these concepts are more involved than a party affiliation and voters need to be thoroughly informed and open-minded when reading or hearing a candidate’s platform. As Converge U.Va. selects pairs towards the end of October and early-mid November, students should bear the organization’s mission in mind when they vote in the General Election Nov. 7.