By Cliff Foster
Getting involved can take many forms: demonstrating in the streets, lobbying a lawmaker, registering voters or volunteering at a shelter. And on Nov. 5, MSU Denver is hosting a free half-day seminar to explore MSU Denver’s role in encouraging civic engagement and promoting civil discourse.
“Democracy, WTF (What’s That For)?” is funded by a grant from the Bringing Theory to Practice Project of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The seminar will be held in Tivoli 320 from noon to 4:45 p.m.
Promoting civic engagement on college campuses is getting renewed attention. “In the last couple decades…the focus has been more and more on careers and preparing students for jobs,” says Elizabeth Parmelee, director of the Center for Individualized Learning. “Now there’s a bit of a boomerang or groundswell to say ‘Yes, jobs and careers are important…but we do need to prepare people to be engaged.'"
Civic engagement is the idea that students, staff, faculty and community members should “be participating in the democratic process beyond things like voting and see their role as important in influencing what’s happening in their community,” she says.
But the seminar will go beyond activism and volunteerism. Although those are important topics, the conversation will also advance the value of having civil conversations with people with different viewpoints.
“Institutions of higher education have a tremendous responsibility to help citizens address issues and problems civilly. It means giving students practice dialoguing across differences and working across differences,” says Mark Potter, director of the Center for Faculty Development.
The afternoon begins with lunch, and then the agenda is divided into distinct topics so participants can come and go as necessary:
· noon-12:30 p.m. – Lunch. (For lunch, RSVP to Maggie Schaeffer at firstname.lastname@example.org before the end of the day on Wednesday, Oct. 31.)
· 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. – What is civic engagement, and why does it matter? Civics, civility and the value of working across differences to solve problems.
· 2 to 3:15 p.m. – Moving from “I” to “We;” Where is community engagement happening currently? What does your community need? What’s standing between you and engagement?
· 3:30-4:45 p.m. – Reflection, wrap-up and next steps.
“We know there are departments and individual faculty doing fantastic things with students,” Parmelee says. “There have been lots of pockets of activity but it hasn’t been at the level of being really highlighted … of being the real focus of what we’re doing and what Metro is all about.”
The seminar is meant to be a first step in raising the profile of education as it relates to civic engagement and discourse on campus. “It’s a call to action…to take seriously the University’s mission to help our students become contributing, active, responsible citizens of our democracy,” Potter says.
Adds Parmelee: “We really see this as…not being a one-time event. We’re not planning to stop here.”
Top of Page