The University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) will launch a new program, “Bridging the Divide,” this January in an effort to promote deeper understanding of the differences between rural and urban communities.
The program will select 20 total students—10 each from UChicago and from Eureka College in central Illinois to spend time in each other’s communities, exploring problems and encouraging dialogue.
During the program, participants will meet once in Chicago in January and in Eureka in February. The program will conclude in Springfield in April, where students will have the opportunity to talk to lawmakers and address the issues they have encountered during the program.
“The mission of the IOP is to foment dialogue and create pathways for understanding. We live in virtual reality silos and it’d be healthy to promote exchange between different communities,” IOP Director David Axelrod told The Maroon. “My theory is that the way you navigate through [the divide] is by getting to know the other side better. There are things that corroborate your views but then there are things that you haven’t seen before.”
According to Axelrod, the program primarily aims to help students better comprehend differences between people in rural and urban areas, and focus on problems common to all. He hopes to spur open debate and help students understand what motivates regional political thinking.
He cited the 2016 presidential election as one of the primary reasons for partnering with Eureka, which is in central Illinois. “The midwest or the industrial heartland determined the election. Eureka’s community made for a great place for UChicago students to explore,” Axelrod said.
Through the program, Axelrod hopes students will become familiar with a wide variety of reasons for the American political divide, ranging from economic to cultural ones. He feels that the program’s culmination in Springfield makes it ideal for students across the political spectrum, so that they will be able to talk to lawmakers about common problems, such as job creation and access to education.
First year Joseph Diller, an IOP Fellows Ambassador, feels that very few Americans are actually ideologues, and that in fact, much of political polarization is intensified by 24-hour news and social media.
Diller argued that this has created echo chambers that prevent people from exploring other views, and that a program like Bridging the Divide would help uncover perspectives that are not understood.
“This will help create dialogue that will ultimately have the goal of truth in mind rather than have the goal of winning the argument,” Diller said.
The program also has the potential to expand depending on its success in the upcoming years. “This is a pilot program—we’ll see how it goes,” Axelrod said. “There can be partnerships and I’d love to see this kind of thing going on around country.”
The application for the program is due November 10.