Being civic minded and democratically engaged is not something that happens instantaneously. The ideologies and concepts of democratic values are learned throughout a lifetime. These lessons can come through standing in line with your parents at the polls, watching presidential debates, discussing politics over dinner with a group of friends, or volunteering to serve meals at the homeless shelter over the Holidays. However, it is often hard for students to connect the dots and understand how these experiences intersect. It can also be difficult for students to understand the power, influence, and impact they have in their communities.
The question I would like to pose to our NASPA Community is how are your institutions intentionally aligning campus programming and initiatives to help students connect the dots and effectively infuse democratic values into their regular routines?
This year, our campus hosted a week of programming over Constitution Day themed around Voter Rights and Responsibilities. We intentionally stacked and layered programs so that they would build upon one another – helping to connect the dots. Three key programs included:
- Congress to Campus. An event where two former Congress Representatives (one democratic; one republican) visited several academic courses sharing their stories and discussing the importance of elected officials and the impact elected officials have in their communities. The evening event open to the community discussed the importance of being an active and engaged citizen.
- Voter Registration Campus Takeover. An event where 30+ volunteers from across campus staffed 5 tables in the primary flow of foot traffic for a full day collecting voter registration forms and distributing handbills reminding students when to vote and listing the types of IDs required to vote.
- Meet the Candidates Event. An event where student leaders invited all local and state candidates running in the election to attend our Meet the Candidates event. If candidates could not attend, we encouraged them to send a proxy from their campaign staff or mail in campaign materials that we could share with participants. This allowed students to engage with campaigns first hand to learn more about their platforms.
Pairing all of these events closely together created buzz on campus and served as a conversation starter for lots of students about the candidates and issues appearing on the ballots. Due to increased notification about the elections being distributed campus wide, we had a higher volume of students stopping by our office to ask questions about voter registration deadlines, asking for sample ballots, or wanting to discuss issues on the ballots for better understanding.
The primary lesson we have learned in the process of creating our campus’ inaugural Campus Action Plan and executing the Constitution Week programs is that it takes a village.
Coming from a one-person office responsible for way more than civic learning and democratic engagement programming, I cannot do this work on my own and you shouldn’t either. Building relationships with community partners and faculty from across campus has been invaluable to our efforts. These partnerships may be:
Faculty Members. Creating partnerships with faculty can be very rewarding. They understand their curriculum better than anyone and have the ability to infuse democratic values and concepts into that curriculum. They can also serve as advocates encouraging their students to attend events outside of the classroom. Examples of successful faculty partnerships include:
- The Political Science department worked with a summer course to create a Georgia Voters Guide that was distributed at various events, shared on social media, and posted to the institution’s website.
- The Social Work department asked their upper level cohort to volunteer at the Voter Registration Campus Takeover as part of their practicum hours.
Community Agencies. How many times in a year do you receive calls form community agencies who want to setup a table on campus to connect with your students? Work with these agencies to build relationships and get their support to help make a larger impact when it really matters. Examples of successful community partnerships include:
- The Whitfield County Board of Elections provided training on how to facilitate a voter registration drive and provided voter registration materials to the coalition of student leaders hosting these events.
- The Dalton-Murray Women League of Voters assisted with staffing voter registration tables at the campus takeover. They also supplied business cards with important dates and instructions on how to complete online voter registration in Georgia.
- GALEO, an organization who strives to increase civic engagement and leadership of the Latino/Hispanic community across Georgia, volunteered to assist with voter registration and provided marketing to help target our Latino/Hispanic students.
As we reflect on all the things we have done over the past couple of months to increase civic learning and democratic engagement, we cannot help but wonder if it was enough. Could we have done more? Did we do enough to adequately prepare students? Did the programs we host make the impact we had hoped for?
We may not know the true impact of the work we are doing for months to come, but as we all continue to navigate and implement our institutional Campus Action Plans know that your hard work and dedication to this initiative is greatly appreciated and much needed.
Now it is time for each of you to share best practices and thoughts as you wrap up the semester. How are your institutions intentionally aligning campus programming and initiatives to help students connect the dots and effectively infuse democratic values into their regular routines?