The Big Question

What’s the single most unifying force in American life?
By Lauren Brown | Illustration by Gabriela Hernandez

Robert Friedel

Professor, History of Technology and Science; Affiliate Professor, Environmental History

I was astonished as a schoolboy at the Declaration of Independence’s reference to the “pursuit of happiness.” The very idea that a nation’s founding document would not only sanction the pursuit of happiness but would say that governments should encourage it is a marvelous thing, and one could argue that it remains the core unifying idea for Americans. Just what happiness is and just how it should be pursued, of course, is another matter entirely.

George Solomon

Director, Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

If politics is the most divisive aspect in America, sports is the most unifying. Think of the passion and joy in a city whose team wins the Super Bowl, college football title, NBA or college basketball championship, Stanley Cup or World Series. Even in Philadelphia, everyone liked each other in February.

Mega Subramanian

Associate Professor, College of Information Studies; Associate Director, Information Policy and Access Center

Diversity, often represented simply as checkboxes on a survey or a form, is the single unifying force that makes us stronger as a nation. Americans have different backgrounds based on race, ethnicity, gender, ability, literacy, socioeconomic status, language, sexual orientation and age, among other factors, but diversity does more to unite than divide us. It propels us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of others and ourselves.

Psyche Williams-Forson

Associate Professor and Chair, Department of American Studies

It is often in and around food that we find camaraderie and unity. There are few events where food does not provide physical, spiritual or emotional comfort. Food can also reveal tensions and differences and be used as a tool for healing and wellness.

Stella Rouse

Director, Center for American Politics and Citizenship; 
Associate Professor, Department of Government and Politics

Diversity is the pillar of the American democratic experience. No other country has been built primarily on this concept. It serves as a catalyst for success, but is also the origin of much discord. Throughout its history, America has struggled to come to terms with its increasing diversity. How Americans face this evolving challenge will reveal our nation’s character.

Isabel K. Lloyd

Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Director, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

All Americans seek a better life for themselves and their families, and the problem-solving approach that underlies engineering is central to our nation’s success. This means working together to identify problems, define their underlying issues and develop solutions. It also includes learning from mistakes, trying new iterations and innovating. This process works as well for human and societal problems as for technological advances from the telegraph and space travel to new UMD creations such as dental fillings designed to last longer by mimicking your teeth, or revolutionary batteries made from wood.


Leave a Reply

* indicates a required field