University of San Diego’s Nation-Spanning “Crossing the Divide” Course to Examine Divisions, Create Connections While Traveling by Train

University of San Diego’s Nation-Spanning “Crossing the Divide” Course to Examine Divisions, Create Connections While Traveling by Train

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

This spring, a group of master’s students from the University of San Diego’s (USD) Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies will embark on a cross-country trip aimed at seeking connection during one of the most polarizing times in recent U.S. history. Over two weeks in May, the “Crossing the Divide” course will take 9 students by train to cities across the Southwest and Southern United States. At each stop, students will traverse divides and connect with people from across the political spectrum on issues that intersect with race, the environment, the justice system, and more.

The group has a wide array of activities planned that will expose them to these issues. In Los Angeles, they’ll meet with Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. In Patagonia, Arizona, they’ll visit a nature preserve and meet with the Borderlands Restoration Network, a group working to rebuild ecosystems and restore habitats. In Birmingham, Alabama, they’ll visit The 16th Street Baptist Church, the target of a KKK bombing in 1963. It all concludes with a visit to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where they’ll reflect on all they’ve learned in front of the U.S. Constitution.

“Crossing the Divide” was created by Sarah Federman, associate professor of conflict resolution at USD, to  engage students with other people and communities across the nation. Federman chose travel by train to further expose students to the country’s landscape and people, and communities that are sometimes dismissed as “flyover country.” Students will meet with organizations and people at each stop to discuss regional issues, and will be encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers along the way, to gain new insights and broaden their perspectives on the impact of these issues.

“Sometimes, in the classroom, when you’re studying people struggling with various challenges, it’s easy to simplify their experiences,” Federman said. “But when you’re up close and meet people it feels different. You start to understand what they’re grappling with, and their priorities.”

During an election year, she hopes this type of engagement will serve as a model to promote connection and push back against polarization.

“Our country is more divided than many of us can ever remember, and political rhetoric is becoming increasingly hostile. Many people’s instinct may be to pull back and become tribal, but that’s the last thing you want  to do,” said Federman. “You want to  get curious about and engage with each other.”

Students will travel by train from San Diego to Los Angeles, before heading east to Tucson, Arizona. From there, they’ll head to Houston, New Orleans, and then Birmingham, before ending their trip in Washington, D.C.

If you’re interested in interviewing Federman or covering the class at one of its stops, please contact

About the University of San Diego

Strengthened by the Catholic intellectual tradition, we confront humanity’s challenges by fostering peace, working for justice and leading with love. With more than 8,000 students from 75 countries and 44 states, USD is the youngest independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States. USD’s eight academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences, the Knauss School of Business, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and the Division of Professional and Continuing Education. In 2021, USD was named a “Laudato Si’ University” by the Vatican with a seven-year commitment to address humanity’s urgent challenges by working together to take care of our common home.


Steven Covella
(619) 260-7806