In the midst of a controversial presidential election, The Circle — a new club hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications — aims to give all UNL students the opportunity to learn how to conduct civil conversations when discussing controversial topics, regardless of political affiliation.
Alex Fernando, CoJMC graduate student and advisor for The Circle, is very passionate about his work for the club. The idea for this new RSO was brought to the university this summer by the college’s new dean, Shari Veil, after she witnessed the benefits a similar club brought to her previous school, the University of Kentucky.
“She came to me, which was really exciting,” Fernando said. “I was pretty shocked that she had a project for me right out the get-go.”
The Circle is a discussion-based club that aims to foster community among the entire student body. Each week, club executives guide an open forum discussion centered around the week's previously-decided topic. Some weeks, the club hosts a guest speaker that will talk about the chosen subject.
According to lead programmer of The Circle, junior broadcasting and sports media and communication double major Maddison Peterson, past topics have included mental health, voting and Husker football.
The group has already experienced a couple of deep discussions, but Peterson said that the mental health conversation was the most impactful.
“It was really cool to see people open up to a group of people who they really didn’t know all that well,” Peterson said. “I think it made a lot of people realize that they are not alone, and there are other people going through the same thing.”
The Circle’s executive team prides itself on its community-building aspect. While the CoJMC hosts the club, the organization is open to UNL students of all majors. Fernando said that, with The Circle being a new club, attendance hasn’t been large. However, its availability to all students gives the organization the possibility to host large group discussions with a diversity of opinions — a quality that Fernando believes will add value to the club.
“We want students from all across campus to attend regularly so we can make sure there’s a drastic difference of viewpoints mixed in,” Fernando said. “I want people to understand that we can have complete opposite scales of opinions but still be friends at the end.”
The Circle is still new on campus, but the pioneers of the organization have a long list of goals they hope to accomplish. Peterson, for one, said she hopes attendance will one day be large enough to have multiple discussions and a variety of discussion leaders.
The Circle meets on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m., sometimes inside or outside Andersen Hall. The location of the meetings is posted on The Circle’s instagram page each week. Additionally, the group follows the Center for Disease Control’s suggestions of masks and social distancing.
Fernando said he believes The Circle brings value to the university. This year has created issues that have divided students, and this organization provides the opportunity to mend these gaps.
“The year has been difficult for everybody,” Fernando said. “The most important thing in college is the friends and people you’re going to meet here, so having an organization that’s centered around meeting new people and talking to and getting to know them — what could be better?”