Campuses in the United States are at a crossroads. They’re more divided than ever, and social media is deepening this division. People engage with those who share their same viewpoints, and block, mute, or ignore those who don’t. Sometimes, we think the internet and technology can solve any problem. It can make communication more efficient, but the reality is that in-person connections are still powerful.
Why do campus clubs still meet in person? Why do sporting events and Greek life represent the lion’s share of passion among students and alumni? There’s something to be said for in-person experiences and being face-to-face with other people you’re eager to learn with and from.
You feel it when you have a dynamic conversation with a classmate, student, or colleague. These in-person moments are much deeper than a text message or a tweet. You can’t hide from the other person in a heated discussion. You can’t ignore them. This person is right in front of you and they want to talk about this topic right now.
Now, imagine the same argument happening over text or online. Both parties can simply ignore each other — these formats are passive. If their comment is something you don’t agree with, you can simply block them. Being face-to-face brings you closer to someone, and being on the internet moves you further apart.
Take a look at the results of the recent election. All we’re hearing about right now — on campuses and in the daily news — is how divided the country is. What we aren’t hearing is how to fix it. The answer is in-person connections. President Obama once said, “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.”
So how do we facilitate more in-person connections?
At Localist, we think the solution is events — they bring people together. Think about a concert. What unites the audience? The performer. Audience members may be Republican, Democrat, rich or poor, but they’re all there to share an experience together. If a single connection with a person is an “atom,” events scale those atoms up into a society that is more tolerant and empathetic.
What does this mean for your college campus? And how can you create not just events, but truly memorable experiences for students?
- Start by determining what “bubbles” exist within the student body of your campus. Define them, then work to find commonalities between these different bubbles and brainstorm which types of events you might be able to hold that would bring these groups together in a positive way. Your goal should be to recognize and celebrate the differences in these groups, while reinforcing empathy between them.
- After each event, send out a post-event survey to ask what resonated with each attendee and what surprised them. Their answers might surprise you!
- Use the data you gather during and after each event to enhance future event programming. This will lead to an even more profound connection within your campus — one where the student body feels their needs are being met, their voices are being heard and their circles are expanding.
The goal of universities is to develop well-rounded adults who can thrive in a diverse world. Using events as a means of bridging divides can educate students outside of the classroom in a way that neither lectures nor online discussions can match.
Mykel Nahorniak is the co-founder and CEO of Localist, an event technology company. In this role, Myke defines the vision and growth of the business and Localist products. Myke serves as a mentor at 1776, a DC-based incubator, is an angel investor with K Street Capital, and is an executive coach.