In December 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump proposed a total ban on Muslims coming into the United States. This prompted KUOW staff to wonder whether the candidate had ever spoken to Muslims, and, more broadly, how many people have had conversations with Muslims about religion, politics, and immigration — topics often avoided in social and work situations.
With assistance from the Seattle Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, KUOW identified 40 local Muslims interested in answering questions. KUOW broadcast on-air announcements promoting the event to meet and talk with local Muslims, and received a strong response from listeners.
Eight “askers” and eight “answerers” were chosen for the event, held at KUOW studios. As a result of its success, KUOW did a second “Ask a Muslim” event at a local community center.
In fall of 2016, KUOW applied for and received a $50,000 Amazon CoMotion Catalyst grant to expand the project. The grant paid for six events, including a third “Ask a Muslim,” along with an ‚”Ask a Trump Supporter,” Ask an Immigrant,” “Ask a Transgender Person,” and “Ask a Newcomer.”
With help from University of Washington Communications Professor Valerie Manusov, KUOW also used the funding to create a set of three surveys to be administered before, immediately after, and three months after the events. The goal of the surveys was to ascertain whether events moved the needle on promoting empathy and understanding.
The surveys showed a statistically significant improvement in empathy and understanding not just right after the event, but also three months later. This research is the subject of a paper Manusov submitted for publication in the Journal of Applied Communication.
Funding was also used to pay for a video documenting the events, two videos showing sample conversations, and a website (https://ask.kuow.org). The site features the videos, a history of the project, and a downloadable step-by-step toolkit for public media outlets or private groups who want to put on their own events tailored to the needs of their communities. Prairie Public in North Dakota is using the toolkit for an “Ask A Native American” event scheduled for August 2018. The King County Library System is working with branch libraries on creating “Ask A…” events.
Read a commentary by KUOW’s Ross Reynolds.