BridgeWSU student org named nationwide Chapter of the Year for facilitating tough conversations on issues facing Detroiters
BridgeWSU, Wayne State’s chapter of BridgeUSA, an organization dedicated to creating space for tough conversations about political and social issues, has been named the Chapter of the Year out of over 50 collegiate chapters. The university chapter was started two years ago by Devin Reynolds, a senior majoring in political science, and has grown from just two members on their mailing list to around 250.
Reynolds, a Livonia native who came to Wayne State after hearing about its strong Law School, wanted to make a change on campus when he began to feel a political polarization within the student body.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t feel that there was an organization that existed that was dedicated to depolarizing our campus,” explains Reynolds. “But I can tell, at least from the conversations and the discussions and events I’ve posted, that students want to come out and have these tough conversations and engage on tough political and social issues to find a solution.”
Reynolds’ desire intensified after many conversations with Professor Brad Roth of political science and law, who was one of Reynolds’ first college professors. And while Reynolds did much of the organizing on his own, Roth was certainly an inspiration who truly believes in the mission of BridgeUSA.
“By reaching across divides and providing for respectful interactions among holders of different views, BridgeUSA and other such groups open the way to reversing some of the negative trends of recent years,” says Roth. “Put simply, it is harder to stereotype those with whom one interacts personally.”
This is what BridgeUSA aims to do. The organization was founded on the principles of constructive engagement, ideological diversity, and solution-oriented politics. Chapters hold events that embody these three principles and open avenues for difficult discussion.
Wayne State’s chapter has held many events, such as a Valentine's Day event to explore if people would be willing to date someone who didn’t share their political beliefs. It was their focus on local politics, however, that drew national attention to their chapter.
“We wanted to orient the BridgeUSA mindset to talk about Detroit,” explains Reynolds. “We talked about a number of issues that affect the city, like the auto industry, gentrification, race relations, and what we do is we talk about those issues and then we pivot the conversation to finding solutions to those issues. What we want to do is inspire change and hopefully facilitate this with other organizations.”
The national parent organization appreciated that Reynolds’ chapter rooted its discussions in issues affecting the immediate community, particularly when the chapter held an event discussing the three proposals on Michigan’s ballot in the 2022 election. Reynolds and his fellow organizers also have plans for an upcoming event discussing gun violence in the wake of the shooting at Michigan State University.
For Reynolds, this award is the culmination of many people’s hard work over the last two years to bring this organization together.
“I was 110% in from day one. I emailed the CEO of BridgeUSA directly, and we just got it started and ever since I felt really passionate about this organization,” says Reynolds. “We were nominated for Chapter Rising Star last year and now we’re chapter of the year.
“Our entire BridgeUSA board, specifically Regina Cabrera Hernandez, Yara Shadda, Elio Zahilla and Yusif al-Katib are the reason why bridge exists. I honestly think BridgeUSA is a team effort, and the reason we’re successful is because our entire team is dedicated to this mission.”
Since this is Reynolds’ last year at Wayne State as an undergraduate, he hopes that this community is able to grow and continue to thrive after he is gone.
“I care a lot about what we’re doing on campus, and I know a lot of professors care a lot about what we’re doing on campus,” says Reynolds. “I think this is the first political organization that’s become a community on Wayne State is a while. I think that’s why I’m very set on this chapter doing well, but in the broader scheme of things I hope what happens in one BridgeUSA chapter can diffuse to other college campuses in Michigan and across the Midwest.”
--By Patrick Bernas, Office of International Programs editorial associate
The Office of Fellowships is part of the Office of International Programs, which leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP