BridgeUSA: Bridging political division through dialogue and empathy

February 1, 2023

BridgeUSA Berkeley chapter students engage in a constructive dialogue about how to overcome political differences.

BridgeUSA was founded in 2016 by a group of university students concerned about the increasing political division, extremism, and lack of empathy they were seeing on their campuses. Throughout the United States, increased polarization was negatively affecting campus life, disengaging youth from political conversations, and radicalizing opinions to the point of violence.

BridgeUSA’s founders were motivated by the understanding that we cannot coexist if we cannot talk to each other. They started by opening three chapters – at University of Notre Dame, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of California Berkeley – and the organization has quickly grown into a multi-partisan student movement championing constructive engagement, ideological diversity, and a solution-oriented political culture. Now with chapters on over 50 campuses and in 24 high schools, BridgeUSA is bridging the ideological spectrum, teaching students to talk and listen with empathy toward different perspectives on important political and social issues.

‘‘Bridge conversations are nothing like contentious political family dinners . . . or debates, but conversations of mutual understanding.’’
– Jax Richards, BridgeOSU (Oregon State University)

Students at BridgeUSA’s Arizona State chapter take on difficult political topics in a Bridge The Gap discussion.

The William H. Donner Foundation, recognizing the urgent need for political empathy and dialogue, was BridgeUSA’s earliest seed supporter in 2018 and in total has provided over $350,000 in funding. In 2023/24, the organization plans to double its budget and expand to 250 chapters, while building out data collection and impact evaluation capabilities.

BridgeUSA’s chapters host student conversations and seminars with politicians, provide advice on campus policy, and have helped develop a new course at Arizona State University on Civility and Economic Thought. “Bridge has positioned me to be a resource in my community where people have permission to change, grow, and share their ideas. This has been so rewarding on a personal and professional level,” says Zoe Isaac, from BridgeASU. The program is equipping the next generation of leaders with the skills necessary for navigating conflict, finding solutions across differences, and tackling the nation’s most important challenges.

BridgeUSA continues to gain momentum across the country, with the steadfast belief that the future of democracy depends on institutions and an active citizenry working together to address societal challenges, despite our many differences.

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