Turning Hot-Button Issues into Civic Learning

Tarrant County College recently partnered with Unify America in the 5th biannual Unify Challenge College Bowl. Thousands of students from 104 universities across 40 states joined the virtual event to share perspectives across differences and strengthen their civic muscles during the seven-day event.

TCC was one of the leaders of the experience with 185 student participants.

During the Challenge, two students—total strangers from different schools with different political leanings, geographical locations, or backgrounds—were matched into a one-on-one guided video conversation to talk about pressing issues and goals for the country.

“We set out to build a program that could offer low-risk, but high-impact experiential learning, while also cultivating the leadership skills that college students—and our nation—need for the future,” explains Michelle Sobel, President of Unify America, whose organization is leveraging technology and games to reduce political polarization and teach collaborative problem-solving skills.

The program began in October 2021 with 10 schools. Now, almost 8,000 students participated, representing a wide variety of learners from students at four-year public institutions to community colleges and military academies. Since its launch, the program has grown 10-fold.

Most importantly for Unify America and its collegiate partners, the students were wowed by the experience. After the event, students were encouraged to submit a feedback survey.

“It’s been really wonderful to see our students learn to feel comfortable discussing challenging issues with other students they don’t fully agree with,” said Brian Tatum, associate professor of English and member of TCC’s District Civic Engagement Committee. “In Unify America, the goal isn’t to change their partner’s mind. It’s to find points where they can understand each other better and to learn to discuss disagreements respectfully and peacefully. Our students are learning skills that will help them throughout their life.”

An anonymous TCC student shared this reflection at the end of the experience: “It is so important to hear what others think about these subjects and to discuss difficult topics,” and another said, “I really enjoyed discussing topics that we usually try to avoid.” Additional student reflections can be seen in this video.

Among TCC participants, 59% say they feel more hopeful about the future of democracy after participating and 62% said they were more likely to share their point of view on political or current events in class or on campus.

Here’s the post-assessment data from the students across the country:

  • 84% rated the experience an 8 or higher (on a 10-point scale).
  • 68% said the Unify Challenge helped them consider new perspectives they hadn’t considered before.
  • 86% said they felt “totally” heard and not judged when they shared their opinions with their partners.
  • 80% said that across party lines, Americans are united when it comes to goals for the country. (Compared to 45% before the Unify Challenge College Bowl).
  • 72% said they wish they had more opportunities to talk openly about these topics.
  • 55% said they are more likely to vote in upcoming elections.

# # #

About TCC

Tarrant County College is one of the 20 largest higher education institutions in the United States and boasts the second-lowest tuition of Texas’ Top 10 community colleges. As a comprehensive two-year college with six campuses in Tarrant County, and online, TCC offers a wide range of opportunities for learners of all ages and backgrounds that include traditional programs, such as Associate of Arts or Associate of Applied Science degrees; workforce and economic development programs; technical and skilled trades programs; and customized training programs for area businesses and corporations. Students also may take advantage of Weekend College through which they can complete an associate degree in 18 months or less by attending class full-time through weekend and online classes.

About Unify America

As a cross-partisan nonprofit, Unify America is on a mission to replace political fighting with problem-solving. Unify America creates evidence-based interactive experiences that encourage constructive conversations across political ideologies and backgrounds. Founded by Harry Nathan Gottlieb (founder of Jellyvision and Jackbox Games), it’s a team of game makers, tech creatives, and business leaders who all share a passion for bringing Americans together.