ALMA — The Doing Democracy Summer Seminar, a week-long course held at Alma College in June, brought local high school students from diverse political backgrounds together to learn skills for finding common ground and communicating across divisions.

In their time at Alma College, the students took a variety of workshops, including a training by Braver Angels, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving civil discourse in the United States. According to Benjamin Peterson, co-director of the Alma College Center for College and Community Engagement (3CE), Americans from across the political spectrum are still united by at least one common trait — the belief that we need to find ways to “disagree better.”

“Our intention in the seminar was to provide high school students with the opportunity to learn how to work with and understand people that they might not agree with,” Peterson said. “We live in an increasingly polarized society, which makes it hard for us to work together in pursuit of the common good. Our young people recognize this and want to change it now, in order to ensure a better tomorrow.”

Peterson was aided in organization the seminar by a team of students from Alma College. Alexandra Voskoboynikova, a communications major from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Stephanie McKelvie, a political science major from Hope, Mich., Dallas Conn, a political science major from Ithaca, Mich., and Toby Layson, a political science/philosophy double-major from Washington, Mich., all agreed the purpose of the seminar was to recognize the impact of political polarization and work to mitigate that impact.

“The Doing Democracy Summer Seminar emulates the much-needed safe spaces for civil discourse by providing listening skills, speaking skills and the time needed to make progress on difficult and polarized events,” Layson said.

Six students from across Michigan participated in the program. Thanks to a generous donation from Deborah Lynch Fitzgerald ’93, a member of the Alma College Board of Trustees, the seminar was free for students to attend.

Peterson related that feedback from students indicated the seminar was “very informative and useful, even outside of (politics),” provided “the opportunity to learn about … communication with others,” and was “a great way to explore the college experience.”

He continued, “It was truly inspirational to see students find common ground on divisive issues such as gun control while engaging with each other in a respectful, productive manner. I am honored to be a part of this work, and to be at an institution that is devoted to teaching the skills necessary for our republic to thrive.”

The seminar was administered by the 3CE and builds on the previous work of the Common Sense Solutions program. The seminar will run again next summer.