Free Speech and Religion

How to Build Trust and Transform Conflict on Campus

March 7, 2023  • Citizenship and American Identity Program

Higher education has always been concerned with the advancement of ideas. College campuses are an ideal environment for ideation, discussion, and debate, but recently the environment has become tense. Americans have never been so politically and socially divided and college campuses are no exception. Many people, especially political conservatives, no longer have trust in higher education institutions. Students also say that they have become more hesitant about expressing their ideas and opinions on campus. While questioning and articulating disagreement are crucial to the development of our future leaders and education as a whole, the current environment leads to conflict and extremism.

The Transforming Conflict on Campus report from the Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program collected and analyzed interviews from college students, faculty, staff, and administrators from across the US about conflict on campus. The interviews were used to create a resource for higher education professionals, offering recommendations on how to best work towards conflict resolution.

Researchers found that focusing on the topic of “free speech on campus” actually hindered conflict resolution by situating the tension as an abstract national debate. They also found that focusing on the specific problems between stakeholders, how stakeholders communicate, and constructing responses grounded in action and dignity surfaced promising resolutions for addressing conflict on campus. Read the report here.

With Americans so socially and politically divided, trust in individuals, institutions, and information has become more important than ever. Bringing people from all walks of life together in dialogue using diplomatic, evidence-based processes is crucial to healing the fractures that are now so commonplace. Aspen Institute’s In Focus: Strengthening Trust campaign is dedicated to building bridges and restoring trust so that we can solve our greatest challenges by working together.