Bursting the Campus Bubble – Bringing Civic Engagement to Campus


Author
Katy Kaesebier, Associate Director for Leadership and Civic Engagement, University of Houston

Published
February 7, 2019


I remember the first time I was told that I was living in a bubble. As a sophomore at my undergraduate institution, an advisor asked me the last time I left campus, and my immediate response was, “I don’t know.” We offer nearly everything students need on campus, right? They can live, eat, work, study, exercise, go to the doctor, socialize, and more all within the boundaries of the institution. As a student, I often found myself spending weeks at a time on campus without ever venturing into the community.

Fast forward several years into my career, and I am now a proud Student Affairs professional at the University of Houston (UH) - a large, public, urban institution. With over 45,000 students enrolled, many of them commute from all over the city. While they may not be living in the “campus bubble” that many students experience on a more traditional campus in a smaller city, our commuter students experience their own version of a bubble with their routine. When students are balancing classes, multiple jobs, families, and more, they may not have time to see the value of civic engagement in their day to day lives. Or, if they see the value, they may not have time to participate in service projects or other civic engagement activities within the community. It is with this mindset that I believe the responsibility shifts to us to bring civic engagement opportunities inside our campus bubbles and make them part of our students routines.

The Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) Theory of Change highlights the value of developing a strong civic ethos on campus. UH has a multitude of programs and initiatives that reflect this ethos, beginning with the mission, goals, and values of the institution. Within the Center for Student Involvement, the ServeUH area is committed to providing civic engagement opportunities that emphasize open-mindedness, civility, and concern for the well-being of others. In addition to this, we value providing experiences for our students both inside and outside of the UH bubble.

Each year we explore many different social issues that impact our community through a wide variety of programs. One of the major issues affecting the Houston community is human trafficking. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received over 15,000 calls regarding human trafficking incidents in Texas. This number has been rising each year, resulting in Texas being designated the state with the second highest amount of sex, labor, and human trafficking incidents. These facts are concerning at many levels, and this issue is not going unnoticed. Governor Abbott recently announced $18 million in grants to combat human trafficking in Texas.

Nonprofit organizations, law makers, and individuals are taking incredible actions every day across the state to improve this situation and lower the rates of human trafficking. As an institution of higher education, we also have a responsibility to bring awareness about this issue to our students. Service opportunities focused on ending human trafficking can be challenging for one-time volunteers to engage in, as many organizations require that volunteers complete hours of training. Due to this constraint, and the overall sensitive nature of working with survivors of human trafficking situations, we have decided to take the approach of bringing the education and awareness to our students and the campus community.

The End It Movement is a coalition of organizations across the country that are working toward ending modern day slavery. They promote the idea that while action is required, awareness is the first step in the right direction. At UH, the Center for Student Involvement is preparing for our second annual End It event to support this movement in collaboration with the Women and Gender Resource Center, the Student Centers, and the Modern Abolitionist Coalition, a registered student organization. The event includes educational activities, opportunities to interact with representatives from local nonprofit organizations, information about how to join student organizations focused on ending human trafficking, and a photo shoot with the iconic red “X” on your hand. This event provides a unique way for students to engage with this issue without ever having to step off of campus. Held in a highly visible location, we will have the opportunity to expose students to an issue impacting millions of people around the world and right here in our community.

  

Shasta, the University of Houston mascot, showed his support during the 2018 End It event. His sign reads, “Over 45% of human trafficking targets are found on college campuses.

While the primary focus of this event is spreading awareness, we also provide resources for a deeper level of engagement for any interested students, faculty, or staff. Participants post their photos on social media, expanding the reach of the event far beyond those who are able to attend. Through events such as End It, we can contribute to a culture of students learning about new social issues even when they are unable to leave the campus bubble.

"Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery, but nothing will ever happen until we are." Gary Haugen - CEO, International Justice Mission


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