While attending the 2019 NCAA Inclusion Forum, Dalton Oberfoell (’21) came across an initiative that he felt would serve Loras College well, connecting different segments of the campus community through mutual respect. Through that, his Common Ground effort was born.
“I really wanted to get Common Ground moving forward because I wanted to see Loras more reflective of its student population and include all of its students, and I felt like Common Ground was a good way to bring together two groups that have been traditionally at odds with each other,” he said.
Inspired by the NCAA Common Ground program, the overall goal of the initiative is to provide space for individuals with faith traditions and individuals who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community to come together, get to know one another, and provide a vision of how we can collaborate and build greater respect for one another.
Like any new program, the challenging part was getting started. Fortunately, Oberfoell had help in the form of Stacia McDermott (’03), the director of Spiritual Life and Peace & Justice, and Sergio Perez (’12), director of the Center for Inclusion & Advocacy.
“I got things moving forward largely with the help of Sergio and Stacia,” he said. “I think it was really a team effort of adapting the program from the NCAA Inclusion Forum and working it into ways that we thought would be the most beneficial for people at Loras.”
For McDermott, she quickly saw the value of Oberfoell’s idea.
“I was very excited that Dalton came across a format that focused on building community through common ground. Living in a time when people are so divided, it is vital to create spaces for people to engage with one another, sharing from their experiences. Only when we do that can we create a community of compassion and understanding,” she explained.
The first piece of the initiative took place this fall when the first Common Ground retreat was held on campus. Working within the spirit of the Loras Diversity Statement, the goal of the session was to interact with respect, compassion and sensitivity while providing the foundation in understanding why all communities must come together. Additionally, there was a push to understand the language used in the statement and its impact on LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Through the half-day virtual retreat, attendees were encouraged to share ideas and experiences that allowed individuals to find their similarities and new ways to connect.
“I think the first retreat went really well,” Oberfoell recalled. “I think it got the ball rolling by just talking about some of the issues between the LGBTQ+ community and people of faith. At the end of the day, it was about trying to find common ground, and I think this was a good start. We received positive responses from people who attended. Everyone seemed to enjoy listening to others and being able to take part in the discussions.”
The retreat was just the first step for the Common Ground initiative. According to McDermott, it fills a need throughout the campus that isn’t always easy to accommodate.
“There is a deep desire for people to have these conversations, but also a lot of fear and uncertainty. With profound feelings, experiences, and opinions around sexuality and faith, we recognize the importance of prioritizing these efforts while also entering into them with a sacred curiosity and gentleness. It has definitely been a great start to more bridge-building work. I am grateful for the team effort and especially the student leadership in Dalton Oberfoell for bringing Common Ground to Loras,” she said.
For Oberfoell, he is encouraged as he looks at what the initiative can achieve.
“Moving forward, I hope to be able to do the actual weekend retreat that it was initially planned to be. I hope to get other younger students involved in planning so that this will continue after my time comes to an end at Loras.”