Organization Spotlight: Common Ground

Carson McGorry / Cluster Staff
Carson McGorry / Cluster Staff

Mercer University has a long-standing reputation of being a community of respect and acceptance. Students at Mercer are encouraged to be themselves without fear of judgment or backlash.

One organization in which Mercer students can be open about who they are is Common Ground, Mercer’s on-campus gay-straight alliance (GSA). At Common Ground, students can discuss topics related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community in an open forum with the goal of “building awareness and encouraging discussion of sexual and gender diversity.”

“It’s called Common Ground because it is a place where anyone can express his or her ideas freely. Anyone is welcome,” said Josh Kirven, the organization’s president.

Common Ground is not the first GSA group to exist at Mercer, however. The school’s first LGBTQ organization, known as the Mercer Triangle Symposium, was formed in 2002 and disbanded in the fall of 2005 after its sponsorship of a “National Coming Out Day” played a role in the Georgia Baptist Convention’s decision to sever ties with Mercer University. A year later, in 2006, Common Ground was founded to once again give LGBTQ students a safe place to discuss topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Common Ground meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in Conference Room II of Connell Student Center. Meeting topics can range widely, from members’ experiences during the week to planning social events for the organization.

“We currently have around 20-25 active members. The number of members that attend each meeting depends on the week,” said Kirven.

This year alone, Common Ground gained approximately 10 new freshmen, including engineering student Chas Bronstein and creative writing and psychology major Bryce Wilborn, who now serves as the group’s secretary.

For many of its members, Common Ground is the community they turn to because it is where they feel most at home.

“For me, Common Ground is pretty much the highlight of my week,” said Wilborn. “When I found out that it even existed, it made me a lot happier to be here at Mercer. It’s the place where I feel most comfortable.”

Bronstein held a similar opinion, referring to Common Ground as “a place where I can really be myself, where I can interact with like-minded people who really ‘get’ me.”

“There are just things that my friends in Common Ground are able to appreciate a lot more than my other friends because they can relate to my life a lot more,” said Sam Tarleton, the group’s event coordinator.

In terms of upcoming events, Common Ground will soon be hosting “Straight Questions, Gay Answers,” an event where individuals who identify as heterosexual can ask questions related to the LGBTQ community and have those questions answered by individuals who identify as gay or bisexual.

Additionally, the organization will be sponsoring an event called “Religion and Homosexuality” in which a panel of four active clergymen addresses topics and answers questions regarding homosexuality from the biblical perspective.

An important aspect to remember about Common Ground is its status as a gay-straight alliance. The group is open to any student (regardless of his or her sexual orientation, gender, or religion) who is willing to further the community of respect and acceptance that has come to define Mercer University.