In November 2020, I met a man named Simon Greer in a small conference room adjacent to the dining commons at Spring Arbor University.
That is when I learned we would partner with a small liberal college in rural Ohio to take a course called Bridging The Gap (BTG). Who knew that the moment Oberlin students stepped out of that van three months later, it was the beginning of a new chapter for me. We learned listening, storytelling, and feedback skills and had challenging conversations. Conversations around politics, religion, criminal justice reform, and more. We focused our time not only on learning the skills to practice conversations with each other, but we applied them to our course project on identifying a breakdown in the criminal justice system. I took that experience to heart and immediately began using the skills to talk to my parents about challenging subjects like my identity as a queer person.
A week after graduating in May 2020, I was offered a position as the program coordinator for Bridging The Gap. The program quickly expanded. We went from two to eight campuses in 2021, and in 2022, we added seven more to the BTG family. Also, in those two years, we expanded our teaching team.
In August, BTG will give 50+ educators from across the country – from Tufts University and Virginia Tech to University of Southern California and University of La Verne – interested in learning more about BTG, a taste of the curriculum we teach the students in the course.
They will learn the core skills of purpose, listening, storytelling, feedback, and power. They will participate in activities and small groups that allow them to practice those skills and, in the last session, take time to plan ways to bring the approach back to their campus in order to push back against our polarized culture and nurture a new generation of bridge-builders.
After the Summit, in September, we will offer a virtual 18-month cohort experience for the campus leaders so that they can continue to learn from each other, refine their ideas about how to bring these skills to their campuses, and hear from fellow leaders in the field.
In two years, I would have never imagined the program that started with two schools would be in this position of growth and expansion. I am excited to see what is to come.
Tina Grace is a Program Coordinator at Interfaith America, implementing the Bridging The Gap program.
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