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Campus Celebrity: Common Ground

Meet this week’s Campus Celebs: Anushikha Sharma,  Kendra Spruill and Sharon On – the Directors of this year’s Common Ground! 


For our readers who do not know what Common Ground is about, could you give us an explanation of the event and its purpose?

Common Ground is a five-day diversity immersion retreat held over Fall Break at Bucknell’s conference center at Cowan. We explore different topics of identity, including race and ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, religion and ability status. We do so through activities and discussions in hopes of collaborating to bring back what is learned to campus to ignite change. It’s a chance to hear more about the Bucknell Community from people who experience life differently from one another. The retreat is free, has amazing food, excellent company and is full of great conversations. Plus, Cowan in the fall is beautiful!

How long have you been involved in Common Ground and how did you become interested in the event?

Kendra: I attended Common Ground my sophomore year, and honestly knew nothing about the purpose of it and what the organization was even about. A few friends encouraged me to apply since I didn’t want to go home for fall break. I ended up loving Common Ground so much that while I was abroad my junior year I applied to be a director. Normally the process is to be a participant then facilitator and then a director. However, since I was abroad during one of my semesters, my last chance to make an impact was during my senior year, so I took the risk and applied to be a director. I couldn’t ask for a better team! We are all very different people but share the common passion and goal of making this year the best year for CG and I believe that it’s going to happen!

Sharon: I applied for Common Ground during my first year and almost didn’t go because I didn’t really know anything about it. I am so glad that I decided to go because it was, and I honestly mean this, life changing. During my first semester here at Bucknell, I was struggling with the transition into college. I happened to see a Common Ground flyer that had the phrase, “exploring your identity,” and I felt like that was something that I needed, so I applied. The year after, I became a facilitator and now I’m one of the co-directors with two amazing other individuals that participated in Common Ground the same year I did.

Anushikha: My experience with Common Ground was as a participant in my first-year. My Residential Advisor at the time was a facilitator for the retreat and knew that I was looking for something to do Fall Break, so he recommended I try out Common Ground. It was possibly the best advice someone could have given me as a first-year student. I went in not knowing what to expect and it changed my life. As an international student, it gave me a chance to better understand the issues and the environment existing in the United States. It helped me understand the implications of my different identities and also identify my privileges. Because of my fantastic experience, I wanted to return as a facilitator to help shape some of the retreat and hence, I applied to be a facilitator in my sophomore year. The training process was very informative and I gained some excellent skills. However, I wanted to impact the retreat event more – I wanted to change some of the content, reach out to more diverse populations and help the retreat become more impactful and well known. Thus, in my junior year I returned as a director for the program alongside Sharon and Kendra.

How have you been personally impacted by Common Ground?   

Kendra: I didn’t particularly enjoy my first few years at Bucknell, and it was mostly because I didn’t take the time to meet people. Common Ground gave me the push that I needed to not only meet new people, but also to learn about the lives of others. I met so many amazing people through Common Ground, and I still talk to many of them today. I don’t normally consider myself a very social person, but for some reason I was able to be a different person at this retreat. I was in a room full of strangers but I never felt more like myself around so many Bucknell students. That feeling that I got motivated me to be a part of the process in order to help my peers experience what I did during my participant year.

Sharon: As I mentioned earlier, I was struggling with the transition into college in my first year. I was overwhelmed by the academic rigor and extremely homesick, and very much unwilling to go out and meet new people. Through Common Ground, I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone and really get to know people. Moreover, I learned how to be a good listener and to understand the true meaning of the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” I met so many amazing people with so many different stories and experiences – something I would have never been able to do without this retreat. I learned so much about myself, and all of the conversations we had during the retreat sparked an interest in social justice and diversity for me.

Anushikha: I did Common Ground as a participant my first-year and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I can honestly say that I have never learned so much in such a short span of time. This learning came through activities and speakers but also through the other students that I met there. The late night fireside conversations over brownies and s’mores, the laughs, tears and stories warmed my heart and changed the way I looked at Bucknell and the world. Being a facilitator added a new dimension to my life as I gained the skills to effectively help other engage in these difficult conversations. However, I can confidently say that my position as director has had the most impact on me. Being in charge of the training and expertise of 14 facilitators, the experience of over 50 participants and the larger campus impact of this retreat is a huge task. Alongside my other two directors, I have struggled, fumbled and learned in invaluable ways.

What do your positions as Directors entail?

The director position involves overseeing the training of the facilitators, the recruitment of participants, the planning and execution of the final retreat and outreach. The directors work closely with the adviser for the program, Mike Duignan, to organize logistics and long-term goals. In about a span of ten months, the overall job is to train our staff to facilitate difficult conversations and also to create a family amongst the facilitating team in order to set the scene effectively for the actual retreat.

Do you have any specific goals for this year’s Common Ground? 

We had three specific goals:

1.)   We wanted to have a CG 2016 staff that was very committed to our initiatives and efforts.

The facilitator application was competitive, but we chose 13 individuals who we believed were 100% committed to the cause of the program and its success. Our staff – Morgan Muller, Sam Jacobson, Sha-Asia Taylor, Brittany Caceres, Matt Alexander, Laur Hudson, Max Fathauer, Ariana Fischer, Subarno Turja, Ashley Sandonato, Tamara Hijazi, Laura Poulton and Erin Clark – have been incredibly supportive and hardworking throughout this entire process.

2.)   We wanted to improve the retreat.

We wanted to revamp the retreat in many ways. Common Ground had a certain set of activities that had been repeated for several years and our time was spent evaluating the impacts and relevance of each existing activity and coming up with new activities. We also added religion as a new topic for this year and have improved the focus and impact on the ability status segment. We hope that our participants benefit from these improvements and have a great experience!

3.)   We wanted everyone to know about Common Ground.

Outreach was one of our biggest goals for this year. No matter what students are involved in on campus, we wanted everyone to know about CG. We increased our advertising a lot this year in order to fulfill this goal. We also went beyond tabling and reached out to Greek organizations, athletic teams, and even the administration. Common Ground is for everyone and all types of people.

For students not attending Common Ground this year, how can they act to promote positive social change on campus?  

Common Ground is a diversity immersion retreat. The idea of immersion is very rich and often becomes the starting point of long-lasting change or impact. When we can put ourselves in the shoes of others, we can develop a sense of empathy with their experiences. Thus, students who want to promote social change on campus should aim to understand the lives of students who are different from them: go to lectures, community dinners, observe the classroom environment, gauge who hangs out with who and where. Actions like these can shed some light. Once we start to observe and understand, we see the issues that exist and we can explain them better to other people. Another important thing to do would be to continue to learn constantly.

What's up Collegiettes! I am so excited to be one half of the Campus Correspondent team for Bucknell's chapter of Her Campus along with the lovely Julia Shapiro.  I am currently a senior at Bucknell studying Creative Writing and Sociology.   
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