Students Who Want to Change, Go to Common Ground

Sabid Hossain ’21


Picture by John Crawford ’20

I was initially a large critic of Common Ground. When I first heard about it, I was skeptical about this so-called “ideal” organization that could facilitate conversations between all affinity groups. Because I had never heard of Common Ground, an organization that existed on campus for years, I thought it must be inadequate at its job. And it seemed like a general consensus of everyone I talked with was that Common Ground was a joke.

For those of you who don’t know what Common Ground is, it is an organization meant to facilitate dialogue between the various affinity groups on campus. These groups include organizations such as Queers and Allies, the Black Student Coalition, and Asian Cultural Awareness Association. Common Ground convenes weekly on Thursdays at 6:00 PM in the Spencer Weinstein Center. Every meeting is open to the College community.

I first learned about Common Ground during the aftermath of last semester’s infamous neo-Nazi incident. The presence of neo-Nazis on campus sharply reminded several communities of their marginalized status on campus. Many students felt threatened and unsafe, and new students began to see past Davidson’s façade of being “an accepting environment towards all.” In response to the neo-Nazi incident, members from different organizations on campus organized a rally in solidarity against white terror. An open microphone was set up in the Union and representatives from diverse communities spoke out about their fears and concerns within the community.

The rally was met with mixed reviews. One of the largest criticisms of the rally was the lack of representation of all identities on campus. Many individuals felt that their voices had been silenced as nobody reached out for them to participate in the organization of the rally. As one of the organizers of the event, I was intrigued by the limiting of discussions of diversity within the community to only certain identities. For example, many international students who have neo-Nazis present within their countries’ governments felt as if they were being excluded from the conversation. This led me to discover the existence of a pressing problem on campus: the polarization of affinity groups on campus and the lack of communication between these groups that occurs as a result. 

This shouldn’t be surprising. One of college’s greatest challenges is finding your own space. In the excitement of living in a new place and escaping the watchful gaze of my parents, I underestimated how deeply the absence of my friends and family would affect me. It’s only natural for people to feel lonely in a new environment. The problem is, once people find their spaces, once they find their support structures and discover the people they can become vulnerable with, they settle.

We see it on the first day of classes, when people choose their seats and stay there for the rest of the semester. We see it with “The Davidson 500,” a myth which states that during an individual’s time at Davidson, there will be at least 500 students who they’ll never meet due to factors such as different social circles. We see it when we walk into a class and see all the people of color sitting at a table together.

And I get it; I partake in this behavior too. I always try to sit next to my friends, and if I can’t, I try to sit next to another colored person or somebody I know from New York. It’s just more comfortable for me that way.

But this had dangerous repercussions for me. One of the direct consequences of isolating myself within my own community was that I lacked exposure to different cultures. For example, I realized that as a member of the South Asian Student Association, I had no idea what was happening in the Asian Culture and Awareness Association. Because I grew comfortable staying among people that shared my identity, my culture, and my struggles, I became painfully ignorant of issues occurring in other organizations. There are so many Davidson students combating institutional oppressions towards their identities, and I was unaware of their problems.

My friend was listening to my concerns about the polarity that existed on campus and offered Common Ground, an organization where representatives from every community could congregate and share valuable information to other organizations, as a solution. I was very skeptical of and vocal about my critique towards Common Ground. I did not believe the community’s focus should be geared towards developing another organization with another set of bylaws and another e-Board. Rather, I just wanted existing organizations to network better and create a platform to streamline critical information across affinity groups. But my friend was outraged that I would be so pessimistic without attending a single meeting. A few weeks later, I decided to attend one.

When I stepped into the Spencer-Weinstein Center that Thursday, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly diverse the room was. I stared at faces of representatives from the African American, Muslim, Jewish, Hispanic, East Asian, South Asian, and LGBTQ+ communities. The second thing I realized was that, for the most part, I was staring at a room of complete strangers. During my one and a half years at Davidson, I had never interacted with any of these people on campus. This fact was particularly alarming because each person in that room was a student leader of their respective organization. And every single person in that room was unapologetically themselves; they felt no inclination to hide facets of their identity in the presence of others. If I had not gone to the Spencer Weinstein Center that day, I may have never met them, and I would have regretted it. Because the third thing I noticed was the passion each member in that room had for making Davidson College a more diverse and inclusive space. For the first time, I saw the power of an organization like Common Ground.

Common Ground is currently tackling issues that many other organizations on campus are also addressing, such as a more representative admissions policy and ways to create more inclusive dynamics between faculty and marginalized students. Additionally, Common Ground is always looking to improve dialogue between communities. 

To learn about all the projects Common Ground is working on, stop by the Spencer-Weinstein Center next Thursday at 6:00 PM! I guarantee that you’ll meet someone new, and hearing their story might even help you with your own struggles.

Sabid Hossain ‘21 is a Physics major from New York City, New York. Contact him at sahossain@davidson.edu

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