Supporting Colleges to Deal with Increased Polarization & Conflict on Campus

Supporting Colleges to Deal with Increased Polarization & Conflict on Campus

Common Ground USA is committed to preventing political violence and fostering a healthier more inclusive American society, including working through partners on college campuses.

For many young adults, the college campus is the most diverse community they have ever been a member of.  Learning from peers of different backgrounds, beliefs, identities and perspectives is part of what makes the college experience so formative.  But the increasingly coarse and adversarial nature of civil discourse reflected in American politics, popular culture and on the social media platforms that many students have grown up with does not prepare them to engage constructively with that diversity when they arrive on campus. A recent report from Constructive Dialogue Institute and More in Common reflects how this has manifested on campuses: “One in five college students has engaged in calling out, punishing or canceling [someone]”.  

The Common Ground USA team has assessed and highly recommends the following practical resources.


A. Preventing & responding to threats of violence, vandalism intended to intimidate or harass, and extremism.

For years before October 7, there had already been a significant rise in anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist and other hate-based rhetoric and actions on college campuses. The Israel-Gaza war has further fueled this already-troubling trend.  In order to support college administrators, faculty, students and families to prevent or respond to such developments, American University’s Polarization & Extremism Research and Innovation Lab has developed a suite of practical toolkits: BRICK Toolkit

B. Enabling constructive dialogue about contentious topics

To address this challenge and help universities provide the best educational experience for students navigating heated debates, multiple tools and programs are available:

Quick tips for dialogue facilitators

Programs to equip students, faculty and administrators to cultivate a campus culture of respectful discourse:

Some universities have integrated dialogue modules and facilitation training programs into classrooms, extra-curricular programs and even as part of mandatory orientation programs. Drawing from over two decades of experience harnessing the power of intergroup dialogue, Soliya designs and implements such programs to advance civil dialogue practices, free speech and critical inquiry among college youth.  

Tools for classroom discussion: Many universities have developed excellent tools and guides for faculty members to create safe space for constructive dialogue about contentious topics, including: Guidelines for discussing difficult or high risk topics and strategies for managing hot moments in the classroom.