Democratic Engagement: Mount Ida College

Gregg Grenier, Director of Community Engagement, Mount Ida College

January 5, 2017

“Where do we go from here?”

At Mount Ida College, there has been significant work in the few years to engage students, staff, and faculty in civic engagement practices. Specifically, in terms of civic learning and democratic engagement, Mount Ida has grown its capacity to support opportunities for partnering with local nonprofit organizations to collectively improve the community. The creation of the Center for Community Engagement in July 2016 brought together traditional student and academic affairs work and housed them together separate from both divisions – reporting directly to the college’s President. In doing so, cross-departmental programs were able to begin to flourish where co-curricular and curricular engagement is becoming more intertwined than ever.

During summer 2016, a coalition from Mount Ida’s Mustang Involvement Center (student life), Library, Associated Student Government, and Center for Community Engagement came together to construct a civic and democratic engagement plan to make Mount Ida’s campus more politically aware and to introduce productive dialogue techniques and resources to make informed decisions around controversial issues and issues being discussed on the national stage during the presidential election cycle. Having students, staff, and faculty engaged in dialogues and discussions around social issues that are being voted on at a local, regional, and/or national level is a strategic priority for our institution moving forward. This group brought perspectives from across campus that allowed for many resources to be shared, from funding to space to knowledge and expertise in various areas.

Throughout the fall semester, our institution focused on the following ways to engage our college community with respect to electoral engagement: on-campus voting campaigns; transportation to polling locations; issue-based dialogues; debate watching parties; a mock election; and election night party. Over the course of the two months leading up to the presidential election, we held 26 individual events that hit on each of our focus areas that had over 830 participants (not unique participants). For a small campus (1,400 students), that was quite a feat for our institution.

The most successful programs were the issue-based discussions, the mock election, and the election night party. The issue-based discussions happened in two ways: four dialogues (one a week in October) that were open to the campus and each had a separate topic (healthcare reform, criminal justice reform, foreign policy, and environmental policy); classroom workshops that took place in first year seminar courses that educated students about the voting process but also engaged them in discussing their viewpoints on a wide variety of issues (including those being voted on at the state level on the ballot). These two programs served over 200 unique individuals (almost 20% of the college’s student population). The Mock Election was held two weeks before the presidential election to be able to give students, staff, and faculty the opportunity to experience voting before it came down to “doing it for real”. The Mount Ida Library was transformed into a polling location where the voters used the actual Massachusetts Ballot to cast their votes. This program turned out over 250 students, staff, and faculty. Finally, the Election night party allowed students the chance to experience the presidential election with their classmates in a controlled, safe environment – especially with how tense the election cycle had been. This program had over 170 students in attendance.

For our first go around with a comprehensive civic and democratic engagement program at Mount Ida, we were extremely proud with the results of our programming/education efforts. The big question that we face is, “where do we go from here?” The unprecedented nature of this election cycle has left our campus at a standstill on how to approach students, staff, and faculty in a productive way to facilitate productive dialogues to make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard. We want to figure out a way to continue the dialogues focused on major issues facing our society on a local, national, and global scale. In addition, we want to be able to provide a safe environment for all those that call Mount Ida and the United States of America home – whether temporarily or permanently. How do we do that?

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