Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 1

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 1

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
The Civic Work of Diversity
Educating Multicultural Community Builders: Service Learning at California State University Monterey Bay
Education for Democracy: Place Matters
In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Curricular Transformation
Narrative and Community: Civic Engagement and the Work of Diversity
Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding for Students of Science and Technology
Research Shows Benefits of Linking Diversity and Civic Goals
Diversity and Civic Engagement Outcomes Ranked Among Least Important
Academic Service Learning for Effective Civic Engagement
Faculty Involvement
There Is No Substitute for Experience
Student Experience
The Personal Is Still Political: HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Communicating Common Ground
Resources for Diversity and Civic Engagement
The Civic Engagement Imperative: Student Learning and the Public Good

Communicating Common Ground

By Margaret Finucane, assistant professor of communication, John Carroll University

Communicating Common Ground, a joint project of the National Communication Association, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Campus Compact, and the American Association for Higher Education, began as an effort to create more engaged students and faculty in communications departments. What has emerged from this collaboration is a dynamic program that encourages institutions of higher learning to embrace their communities and teach students the benefits of diversity. We are happy to now welcome the Association of American Colleges and Universities as a new partner in this national project.

Through Communicating Common Ground, faculty members and students partner with community agencies and P–12 schools to reduce prejudice and foster respect for diversity. Because prejudice is detrimental to a strong democracy, these partnerships seek to maximize the opportunities for interaction among college students and school children in local communities. In the five years since its inception, the Communicating Common Ground project has grown to include over seventy-five partners nationwide. Below are examples of the work of some of those partners. For more information about the project, please visit www.natcom.org/nca/Template2.asp?bid=268.

John Carroll University

Students enrolled in Interpersonal Communication at John Carroll University (JCU) tutor elementary school children from an impoverished urban community. Because JCU students are primarily white and the elementary school children are primarily African American, both groups of students have the opportunity to meet someone “different.” Part of the tutoring project involves short workshops on stereotypes, prejudice, and the importance of valuing diversity.

The college students and the elementary school children alike have benefited greatly from the program. The positive effects for college students are exemplified by the experience of Molly Matesich, a junior at JCU who writes, “Of all the educational experiences I have had at John Carroll thus far, this one [the tutoring project] has definitely been the most rewarding. My experience . . . was more educational than anything I could have learned from a textbook or in a classroom. The service project greatly enhanced what I learned from the interpersonal communication class.”

For the elementary school children, the opportunity to work individually with a college student has been highly valued. The children vie for the chance to be selected for the tutoring program. In addition, after one year of the tutoring program, the pass rate on the fourth-grade statewide proficiency tests jumped from near zero to 50 to 75 percent. Anthony Jastromb, a fourth-grade teacher at the elementary school, attributes a significant portion of the increase to the presence of JCU students.

Students tutoring these children learn about the obstacles to education faced by urban districts. Significant college class time is devoted to discussing the relationships JCU students form with these children. We attend to language, nonverbal communication, perception, and other key aspects of interpersonal communication. Students complete guided journal entries for each week’s tutoring session. Analysis of the journals reveals that students gain a greater understanding of the relevance of a college education to “living in the real world” (Finucane and Akande 2005).

George Mason University

Students in New Century College at George Mason University are participating in the Communicating Common Ground project and report a significant impact on their learning. Students enrolled in Social Movements and Community Action as part of a campus learning community work with community organizations to fulfill academic objectives while satisfying the organizations’ needs to effect social change in the community. Pre- and post-test surveys reveal “an increased awareness by students that service, citizenship, and civic responsibility are inextricably connected” (Gring-Primble and Kenner-Muir 2005).

Ball State University

Students at Ball State University have the opportunity to participate in a fifteen-credit-hour interdisciplinary seminar studying hate speech. This seminar, Learning from a Legacy of Hate, exposes students to the power of hate speech and its impact on community members. Students interact with members of the community, examine attitudes of intolerance in the local community, and study ways to combat hate speech (Messner 2005).

Western Michigan University

Journalism students at Western Michigan University partner with a local high school’s journalism program to produce a special newspaper section for the local Kalamazoo paper that focuses on a diversity issue in the community. The college students report that they engage in significant research and learn reporting, writing, and editing skills more fully through participation in the project. Similarly, the high school students report that they learn more from producing this special edition than from any other edition. They also engage the community and their views on the importance of diversity often change (Christian 2005).

Xavier University of Louisiana

Honors public speaking students enrolled at Xavier University of Louisiana partner with local middle schools to develop the public speaking skills of seventh- and eighth-grade students. Each year, public speaking assignments are connected to a social studies theme at the middle school, such as the fiftieth anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. Xavier students design a public speaking curriculum that integrates research, writing, and presentational skills. The middle school students have an opportunity to visit the university’s library to participate in a research workshop and an interview skills workshop. For the Brown vs. Board of Education assignment, students met and interviewed members of the New Orleans community who remembered the Brown decision and related events.

The project culminates in a celebration where the seventh- and eighth-grade students present their speeches. The middle school students report better understanding of significant events in history, increased confidence in their speaking ability, and satisfaction with the mentoring relationships they experienced. Xavier students report a stronger connection to their own histories and demonstrate a desire to explore the topics in greater depth for their own class presentations. Xavier students also report strong interest in continuing the mentoring program beyond the semester coursework (Louis 2005).


Christian, S. E. 2005. Student newspaper diversity project. Internal report, Western Michigan University.

Finucane, M. O., and O. S. Akande. 2005. Achieving an understanding of diversity through interpersonal communication. Internal report, John Carroll University.

Gring-Primble, L., and J. Kenner-Muir. 2005. Social movements and community activism: Connecting the classroom to the community. Internal report, New Century College, George Mason University.

Louis, R. 2005. Communicating Common Ground at Xavier University of Louisiana. Internal report, Xavier University of Louisiana.

Messner, B. 2005. Learning from a legacy of hate. Internal report, Ball State University.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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