Beyond Voter Registration: Teaching Students to Be Active Citizens

Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, Elon University

June 20, 2018

Registering students to vote is an important first step in engaging them in our democracy.  But how do we help them gain the knowledge and skills to become active citizens?  The Civic Engagement Council at Elon University is comprised of faculty, staff, and students from across campus.  The Council plans and coordinates a variety of programs to help students approach their civic responsibilities on a deeper level.  Programs touch on civic education; deeper dialogue; and race, ethnicity, and faith understanding.

The Elon Political Engagement Work Group is a sub-committee of the Council.  This collaborative group involves students, faculty, and staff representing departments across campus ranging from the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies to Student Media and includes the voter registration initiative branded Elon Votes!.  The work group was initially formed in 2015 to implement voter education activities and increase student participation in local, state, and national elections.  However, following the 2016 election, this group expanded operations beyond voting efforts and launched the Active Citizens Series.

The Active Citizens Series is designed to cultivate the next generation of informed leaders who will help strengthen communities and shape our democracy.  This non-partisan series was specifically created to deepen civic engagement during non-election years.  Events have included workshops on topics such as listening across the aisle and writing to elected officials, a State of the Union watch gathering, and conversations with local, county, and state elected officials.  The initial Active Citizens Series programs were well attended and were held in open spaces in the student center where students could easily join in when they saw a gathering crowd.  Each program had multiple co-sponsors including the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, the College Writing Program, and North Carolina Campus Compact.

The Council on Civic Engagement sponsored the Deliberative Dialogue program based on issue guides from the National Issues Forum.  Each semester, the Council selects a topic for deliberation.  These are open to the entire campus and they attract students, faculty, and staff from across disciplines.  Facilitators are trained each semester using the issue guides that will be discussed.  Last year, for example, the Council members selected Climate Choices- How Should We Meet the Challenges of a Warming Plant?  In the spring semester, they selected Safety and Justice-How Should Communities Reduce Violence?   The goal for the 2018-2019 academic year is to open the dialogues to members of the Alamance County community in addition to the campus community.  Further, the dialogue topics are often used in individual classrooms that are studying those specific issues.  Trained facilitators are available for classroom dialogues by request. 

Additional dialogues and conversations are offered by departments throughout the year.  These programs vary in length and depth and focus on helping students talk about diversity and identity.  For example, the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education offers two lunchtime series for faculty and staff.  During the academic year, they offer a Race-nicity Series and in the summer they offer a program called the Race, Reflections, and Discussions Series.  Both are designed to help faculty and staff to think about their own experiences and beliefs.  Intergroup Dialogue is a class offered by the anthropology department and Sustained Dialogue is an initiative hosted by the Division of Student Life.  The library staff offers the nationally recognized Human Library program during the January term and the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life hosts lunch and learn programs promoting Interfaith Dialogue throughout the year.  All of these programs work together to promote a campus ecology of respectful dialogue and conversation. 

The Civic Engagement Council continues to encourage students to not only register to vote but to actually cast their ballot.  However, being an active citizen goes beyond voting and being well-informed; it also means becoming more engaged in your community and working beside your neighbors to make changes for the common good.

For additional information about the programs mentioned in this blog, please contact Mary Morrison at [email protected]


  • Mary Morrison, Assistant Dean of Campus Life and Director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, Elon University
  • Bob Frigo, Associate Director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, Elon University

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