Being Involved Matters

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

- Thomas Ehrlich 

If we want to engage higher education institutions in offering sustained civic participation opportunities in hopes of creating a thriving democracy, being involved matters.

If the goal is to tackle the wicked problems - food insecurity, education, employment, homelessness, etc. - our communities face; a part of the solution is equipping those at higher education institution with the skills and know-how to be active participants in our societies1. This includes things like critical thinking skills, written and verbal communication skills, problem-solving skills, and more. Being active in programs like Dialogue and Deliberation provide a venue for students and community members alike to hone in on these skills and to be a part of something bigger than themselves, being involved matters.

According to an initial, post-election estimate in November 2016 by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), approximately 50% of eligible young people—about 24 million youth, ages 18-29—voted in the 2016 general election. That’s a similar turnout rate to the one CIRCLE calculated in November 20122. Which could be inferred that a large portion of college aged students are not voting in our national election. If the objective is to have active participation in selecting the leader of our nation, being involved matters.

In an effort to prepare students to make the most educated decisions, having knowledge of history and current events provides a landscape for informed engagement. Reading a newspaper or attending to legislative overviews like the recent NASPA Research and Policy Institute post Campus Free Speech 2017 Legislative Round-up & Considerations Following Charlottesville3 can assist in informing actions and thoughts of our communities in turn better preparing our students and communities for participation in a thriving democracy. If the idea is to have a knowledge base about democracy, being involved matters.

As explained in A Crucible Moment (2012) civic inquiry is the practice of inquiring about the civic dimensions and public consequences of a subject of study; the exploration of the impact of choices on different constituencies and entities, including the planet; the deliberate consideration of differing points of views; and the ability to describe and analyze civic intellectual debates within one’s major or areas of study (pg. 31)4.  If the objective it to foster an environment in which students are asking questions, seeking answers, and critically thinking through problem, then being involved matters.

As we transition into year six of the NASPA LEAD Initiative, NASPA is thrilled to be working with several campuses covering two- and four-year public and private institutions, with diverse student profiles and varying enrollments ranging from large public flagship universities to small religiously affiliated private colleges, these campuses are engaging their students and communities in advancing the civic mission of higher education. NASPA applauds their recognition that being involved matters.

About the NASPA LEAD Initiative

Institutions selected to participate in the NASPA LEAD Initiative will work collaboratively in cohorts to share resources, best practices, and participate in professional networking opportunities. Lead institutions receive support and continuing professional development from NASPA through this network as well as public recognition for their efforts. 

The Lead Initiative began in 2012-2013 with three primary goals.  First, the initiative was seen as a way to advance the institutionalization of CLDE work in student affairs divisions and postsecondary institutions more broadly.  Second, NASPA wanted to facilitate peer-to-peer sharing and collaboration across the participating colleges and universities.  And finally, NASPA sought to increase the awareness of student affairs’ overt contributions to students’ citizenship development, civic learning, and community engagement.  After the first three years of our efforts, we can safely say we made significant progress towards these goals. 

For additional information about the Lead Initiative, please visit NASPA’s CLDE webpage at: https://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/groups/lead-initiative


1: Carcasson, M. (2014, April). Tackling Wicked Problems through Deliberative Engagement. Retrieved from https://www.libarts.colostate.edu/cpd/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/tackling-wicked-problems-through-deliberative-engagement.pdf

2: THE CENTER FOR INFORMATION & RESEARCH ON CIVIC LEARNING AND ENGAGEMENT The 2016 Youth Vote. (2017, August 29). Retrieved from http://civicyouth.org/quick-facts/youth-voting/

3: Hinds, T. L. (2017, August 24). Campus Free Speech 2017 Legislative Round-up & Considerations Following Charlottesville. Retrieved from https://www.naspa.org/rpi/posts/campus-free-speech-2017-legislative-round-up-considerations-following-charl

4: National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (2012). A Crucible
Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future
. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities