The CommonGround program in IGR develops and facilitates short, interactive, peer-led workshops on various social identity and social justice topics for groups of undergraduate and graduate students. Our program has had an eventful summer and Fall semester in 2016, full of workshops and exciting updates.
From new staff to a program restructure, there have been a number of changes in CommonGround. Earlier in the semester, two staff members who oversaw CommonGround—Danny Alvarez (Program Manager) and Taryn Petryk (Assistant Director)—accepted new positions at the Residential Education program at Stanford University and the U-M Ross School of Business, respectively. Their warmth, support, and wisdom will be dearly missed by CommonGround students, and we are so excited to see where their new adventures take them. Laxmi Shastry joined the CommonGround team as the new Program Manager in October. In addition to professional staff transitions, we also welcomed new members to the 2016-2017 Programming Team, the student staff who run the CommonGround program: Qiu Fogarty (Graduate Intern), Maxwell Stein (Logistics Coordinator), and Max Cornblath (Program Assistant).
The program itself also underwent changes, with a new structure and set of requirements for the volunteer Student Coordinators and Workshop Facilitators who make up the rest of the CommonGround community. Prior to this semester, Workshop Facilitators met monthly to build community, explore social justice topics, and practice facilitation skills. Starting Fall 2016, the program requires all Workshop Facilitator to attend weekly meetings on Wednesdays. We have seen some wonderful results from the shift, with CommonGround forming a tighter-knit community and facilitators feeling better prepared and supported as a result of the sustained and more regular engagement. Our Student Coordinators support the Workshop Facilitators and program through marketing, recruitment, and community-building efforts. This year, they have been able to work on specialized projects with the creation of three new teams that focus on Facilitator Support, Professional Development, and Yearbook/Social events. The opportunity for Student Coordinators to do more focused work in smaller teams has created a lot of innovative energy in the program. Finally, CommonGround students have also had a new opportunity to work more closely and collaboratively with the Growing Allies program in the curriculum development and facilitation of the bi/annual Growing Allies Retreat. Part of what makes CommonGround so unique and effective is the program’s investment in the leadership development of the Student Coordinators, Workshop Facilitators, and Programming team. We have had an amazing experience creating and assessing new ways to enhance the learning and growth of our student leaders.
In a time where engaging across difference is of vital importance given campus and national climate, CommonGround has been well positioned to provide spaces for these conversations. We have seen an increase in workshop requests in 2016 and have been able to strengthen existing partnerships and create new connections with a variety of student organizations, Student Life units, and academic departments. One especially successful collaboration was an Open Dialogue on "Perceptions and Assumptions of Sexuality and Attractionality" organized by IGR's Student Engagement Team, the Spectrum Center, and CommonGround. Beyond engaging with students at U-M, CommonGround has also had the chance to share its work with a broader audience. For example, students in CommonGround presented a session about the program at the Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center conference in October and the program was featured on an episode of the NASPA Leadership Podcast in November. CommonGround is ending 2016 strong, and we look forward to the workshops, learning, challenges, and successes that come with 2017!
During the Spring/Summer 2016, CommonGround facilitated 19 workshops with 624 participants In Fall 2016 there were 22 workshops with 341 participants (est.)