Weppner Center for LEAD and Service-Learning, Florida Atlantic University
February 26, 2019
Shifting the spotlight from one day of service and social justice advocacy, Florida Atlantic University is attempting to provide a focus on civic engagement all year.
In January 2019, the Weppner Center for LEAD and Service-Learning (Lead and Serve) in collaboration with the Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Education and Advocacy (IDEAs), Students Advocating Volunteer Involvement (SAVI), and Multicultural Programming looked to expand on two stand-alone events and bring them together in an effort to develop a holistic social justice minded event in honor of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The MLK Day of Service has been hosted by the Weppner Center and SAVI since 2012 and has been a way to “Make it a Day On, not a Day Off” in service to the community. The Days of Service at FAU, historically have been an opportunity for FAU students to engage with a variety of community partners in direct, meaningful, and hands-on service. The Day of Service projects are university-wide programs that take place on all the campuses at FAU with a goal to connect students with a variety of community partners to make a difference and learn about a given social issue.
This year Lead and Serve partnered with the newly created Center for IDEAs to host the annual Diversity Address prior to the Day of Service, to give students a charge before heading out to their respective worksites. Following the diversity address students across all FAU’s campus areas connected with a variety of community agencies representing a wide range of social issues. After completing their selected service project students traveled back to campus at the conclusion of the day to reflect on their experiences and make meaning from what they had learned.
The MLK Day Diversity Address and Day of Service, also kicked off Social Justice Week at FAU. One student, when asked “has your understanding of social justice evolved as a result of your experience today? If so, how?” answered “We, as a community, can create a sense of belonging by coming together and provide a helping hand to others. An act that personally drives me to feel peace and pride.” Social Justice Week culminated with the WeLead: Diversity Matters Student Leadership Symposium. This one-day experience aims to broaden participants’ cultural fluency while promotion informed and effective social justice advocacy. As a diversity-centered conference, WeLead looks to having participants learn from one another to understand cultural differences to collaboratively work together to make positive change happen. Workshop sessions, panels, and keynote presentations focus on the connection that diversity and inclusion have as a core to effective leadership. WeLead provides a space where civil discourse is encouraged in order to create a campus community that prioritizes diversity and inclusion and develops social change agents.
The sequence of programs represents an institutional shift toward social justice education and intentional programming that inspires students to “dig a little deeper” to understand the root causes behind a social issue and how they can become active citizens, who then in-turn inspire others to act. Looking beyond this year, future initiatives such as the Fall Hot Topic Leadership Institute (this year, titled “When We Vote,” centered on voter engagement and awareness) are being reconceptualized to continue the conversation around how students can envision themselves as social justice advocates and civically aware citizens beyond just in election season. This event brings together a faculty panel that not only inspires, but also challenges student participants to create positive change in their communities.
Moving forward the Weppner Center is dedicated to making even more intentional efforts to offer programming and experiential opportunities that are in alignment with the greater vision of creating socially-minded student leaders engaged in civic action on-campus and beyond FAU. Yes, fostering a grand vision is a vital first step, but that is all it is. The next step should include a didactic action plan that is measurable and informed. Each student has the capacity to be a change agent equipped with a vision grounded in positivity and boldness. Florida Atlantic University, more specifically, the Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning is committed to assisting students realize their vision and develop action plans that support social justice advocacy.
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