About Common Ground

The Common Ground Center: Education for a Just and Sustainable World

Rainbow Butterfly

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future…To move ahead we must recognize that in the midst of the magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”  - The Earth Charter, 2000

Executive Summary

UC Santa Cruz’s Kresge College is home to a Center promoting social and environmental change, the Common Ground Center. The mission of Common Ground is to create cultural change for social justice, environmental regeneration, and economic viability. We act as a catalyst and facilitator of systemic change through undergraduate action-education, research, advocacy, and civic engagement. The Center has a large base of community support from its existing programs in Nonviolent Communication, Restorative Justice, Transformative Action, The World Café and the Kresge Garden, as well as existing partnerships with civil society organizations promoting the values, principles and practices of Common Ground.


Common Ground is integral to UC Santa Cruz’s commitment to being “a participatory community united by shared commitments to: service to society; preservation and advancement of knowledge; and innovative teaching and learning” (www.ucsc.edu).

The mission of Common Ground is to create cultural change for social justice, environmental regeneration, and economic viability. We act as a catalyst and facilitator of systemic change through action-education, research, advocacy, and civic engagement.

The Center’s primary focus is undergraduate education. Common Ground Center faculty offer a series of courses at Kresge College. Click here for more information.

Our educational philosophy is based on what Paulo Freire calls praxis, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire 51).* In our approach, learners are at the center of their own education, studying questions that matter most to them. Facing the unprecedented political, economic and ecological turbulences of today, our students are concerned with transformative learning opportunities that bridge the gap between academia and society, theory and practice. In short, they want to make a change in the world. Accordingly, we teach courses that demonstrate best practices for social and environmental change, partake in faculty-student collaborations, and provide mentorship for students as they design and implement projects in their area of inquiry. We are committed to supporting students in developing their full capacity to contribute to social and environmental change.

We provide mentorship in particular skills including: project management, nonviolent communication, restorative justice, facilitation, leadership, regenerative design, nature awareness, social entrepreneurship, and sustainable food systems. Our courses seek to engage student’s heads, hearts, and hands, and move beyond the traditional classroom format. One faculty-student collaboration, The World Café, brings members of the campus community, civil society and government together through regular large scale dialogue to discover new solutions for commonly held challenges. Another example is the Kresge Garden, a 1/3 acre production and education garden that is a living model of sustainable community design. Additionally, we sponsor competent and committed students in advancing participatory action research, civic engagement projects, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities, by which students develop their own leadership capacities in service of the world they want to shape and inherit.

* As a pedagogy, praxis has been immensely transformative in higher education worldwide since it was first introduced in the 1970s. It led students and faculty at UCSC to develop prominent interdisciplinary fields such as Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies, and Community Studies, that provided the academic foundations for Kresge College in both its early years and still today. These are examples of the new cultural forms to advance solutions to today’s problems.

What is "Common Ground"?

The term “Common Ground” traditionally refers to equitable sharing and care of natural resources.  Its use as our Center’s name is inspired by similar ideals, centered around a threefold realization: first, our common dependence on a shared material ground, that is the earth and its resources; second, that these resources are being adversely impacted and require responsible stewardship; and third, that any viable solution to these challenges must be collective in nature. The Center’s aspirations are therefore focused on the need for responsible, sustainable, and regenerative solutions for problems that we face in common. Both ecologically and socially, Common Ground declares that we are inter-dependent and reciprocally invested in each other’s actions and wellbeing. Our Center brings this triple heritage of ecological, social, and historical perspectives to bear on undergraduate education at Kresge, UCSC, and the larger community.

Our Core Commitments

Stewardship of the Earth

Meeting Universal Human Rights and Needs

Equitable Share of the Surplus

Limiting Wasteful Growth and Consumption

Our Values and Guiding Principles

Inclusivity and Diversity

Inter-generational Co-mentoring

Community Self-Reliance and Self-Management

Civic Engagement and Global Citizenship

Community Stewardship of the Land base

Compassion and Empathy

Social and Environmental Justice

Personal Empowerment

Regenerative Community Design

Creativity and Spiritual Development


Research and Publication 

Students, Faculty and Staff of the Center participate in ongoing research projects around critical issues. Our approach to research is theoretically based in Participatory Action Research (PAR), Critical Pedagogy and Popular Education. The Center’s research projects are venues through which we build cross-boundary partnerships, collaboratively author timely and relevant publications with primarily new writers, and provoke large systems change.

Additionally, we engage in long-term Participatory Action Research (PAR) projects in the following areas:

Restorative Justice – How do we move from a retributive justice system to a restorative one, bringing together all parties involved in an act that broke connection, safety, and trust?

Empathy - How do we build strong and resilient communities based on compassionate communication, promoting altruism and community care?

Inter-Generational Partnership and the Cultural Creatives phenomenon - What is possible now that has never been before due to the shared values amongst Cultural Creatives from across all stages of life? What are best practices for forming inter-generational partnerships? How do we create cultures that work for all life?

Deep Nature Connection - Why does connecting with nature make humans healthier and happier? How does it enhance human individual and collective development? What are the best ways to integrate deep nature connection into higher education?