Why 'Ask A...'

You can’t have a functioning democracy without talking to people you disagree with. And it’s become harder and harder to do that.

We are more divided than ever. People have pulled apart geographically to more liberal and conservative enclaves. The rich and the poor, Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites; we all are living more separately.

Reddit Cofounder Steve Huffman says, “Put people together in the right context, and they’ll do amazing things.” These events create the context for civil conversation designed to promote understanding of a group mistrusted, but largely unknown. Our research shows that participation in ‘Ask A…’ events promotes understanding and empathy.

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It all began when then-candidate Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. in early 2016. Ross Reynolds, KUOW’s Executive Producer for Community Engagement, wondered how many Americans knew Muslims personally. And if they did, would they feel comfortable talking about politics and religion – two topics often shunted aside in professional and social situations.

A sample conversation from Ask An immigrant

The dinner conversation took off. People did not seem to want to leave.”
  • A sample conversation from ‘Ask A Transgender Person

  • Along with Caroline Dodge, KUOW’s Director of Community Engagement, Reynolds came up with an idea for an event where several Muslims would have a series of short conversations with non-Muslims, in speed-dating style. After, there would be a group discussion over dinner. They called it ‘Ask A Muslim.’ And the results were outstanding.

    Following this success in February 2016, KUOW did a second ‘Ask A Muslim’ event in July of the same year. Again, the design for interaction prompted an enthusiastic response from participants; the dinner conversation really took off. People did not seem to want to leave.

    With each event, the KUOW team refined the design of the process to work more smoothly. KUOW’s John O’Brien took charge of recording sessions at each event. We turned this material into featured broadcasts on KUOW and audio for our website. The station hired BaronVisuals to record the events for a video about ‘Ask A…’

    After receiving a grant in 2017 to expand the program, KUOW produced a third ‘Ask A Muslim’ event, followed by ‘Ask A Trump Supporter,’ ‘Ask An Immigrant,’ ‘Ask A Transgender Person,’ ‘Ask A Cop,’ and ‘Ask A Newcomer.’

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Need more information? Here are some common inquiries about our event.

    When and where did the first event take place?

    The initial ‘Ask A Muslim’ event occurred at the KUOW’s Performance Studio in Seattle’s University District in February 2016.

    How does KUOW pay for these events?

    The KUOW team submitted a proposal to a University of Washington program, which was in conjunction with Amazon, to award up to $100,000 for novel experiments. The team won a $50,000 grant to expand in 2017.

    How effective are the events in promoting understanding and empathy?

    With the help of Valerie Manusov, UW’s Communications professor and her graduate student Danny Stofleth, Ross Reynolds designed a series of surveys taken before, after, and three months after each event. The ‘Ask A…’ team feels the results have validated that this design for human interaction works. Read more here.