September 12, 2008

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — Between the racket of first-year students settling into their new residence halls and the rumble of seniors scrambling for post-graduate plans, an organization on the Bucknell University campus is making some serious noise.

Common Ground, directed by junior Scott Teagarden and senior Mahdi Woodard, is a student-run organization that challenges people to think critically about issues of diversity in an environment open to all perspectives.

Three-day retreat
On Oct. 11, Common Ground will host a three-day retreat at Cowan focusing on three major topics: race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. Registration for the event is available online, and the deadline to apply is Sept. 15.

Led by students and supported by the University, Common Ground is a diversity immersion program that raises awareness on issues of biases and tries to encourage intellectual discussion to overcome them, Teagarden and Woodard said.

Agents of change
Modeled after a successful program at Duke University, Common Ground aims to equip Bucknell students to be agents of change to improve the campus climate. "We want to create a community where different races can discuss social inequality," Teagarden said.

The inspiration to start Common Ground came during Christmas Break in 2007. Home with his family, Teagarden heard about the success of the program at Duke from his sister and decided to explore creating a version of the program at Bucknell. He spoke with Dean of Students Susan Hopp and students interested in leading the organization, including current co-director Woodard, and the overwhelming response was to move ahead with the idea.

First retreat in October
After several months of planning, Common Ground will host its first retreat next month. The get-away, which the group plans to make an annual event, will devote one day each to the topics of race, gender and sexual orientation. Most of the retreat will center on discussion, but videos and activities also will be used.

Eight student facilitators have been trained to lead participants in discussion. Assistant Provost Robert Midkiff and English professors James Peterson and Ghislaine McDayter will help facilitate interactive conversations.

Constructive dialogue
The main point of the retreat, Woodard said, is for students to engage in constructive dialogue about sensitive issues and, more importantly, "to relate it all to Bucknell."

The retreat, scheduled Oct. 11-14 at the Cowan Conference Center, is free of cost to all participants.

While the hubbub of campus may die down as first-year students learn their way to and from class and seniors secure jobs and graduate school applications, Common Ground hopes to continue finding its way into the ears and minds of students well after their three days at Cowan, Teagarden said. "(The retreat) is not a beginning or an end," he said. "It's just a beginning of a continuing conversation."

Contact: Division of Communications