Virginia Capitol Connections Summer 2022

Virginia Capitol Connections, Summer 2022 15 even if we disagree, we can hear one another … see each other where we are even if we so deeply disagree.” I often hear some on the left complain that Youngkin is some kind of Trump acolyte. That just seems absurd. Trump never talked like this. The country would be better off if he had. On Cloverdale Road in Botetourt County, there’s a homemade sign that reads: “I’d rather have a mean tweet and $1.95 gas right now.” I understand the desire for $1.95 gas, but why do we have to have meanness in our public discourse? Youngkin went on to tell the Regent graduates: “You all can define this discourse.You all can reintroduce grace.” That’s true—and not just true of the graduates.Youngkin might want to ask himself whether all of his actions have met the test he’s laid out, or whether he’s done things simply to fire up his political base that have only sharpened political divisions that didn’t really need to be sharpened. (People might have different opinions on that, especially state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, who complained that Youngkin and his staff broke tradition by not notifying him the governor intended to veto one of his bills. I wrote then that this seemed a violation of common courtesy, which seems a form of grace in public discourse.) Still, Youngkin has laid out a good standard so let’s take him at his word and apply this. Yes, I know it’s easy to preach “grace in the public discourse” and harder to practice it when the other side is getting ready to (insert whatever horrible policy you think the other side wants). Common decency won’t solve every problem or soften the sharp edge of every disagreement, no matter how much I wish it would. And a single speech won’t change very much. Youngkin himself joked that he didn’t remember who his own graduation speaker was or what that speaker had to say. But we’d be better off if more people remembered (and heeded) what Youngkin had to say at Regent—and if more people could see a white Republican man and a Black Democratic woman hugging each other even if they don’t agree on very much. None of that will change any votes, but it might change a lot of attitudes. Dwayne Yancey is the executive editor of Cardinal News. He spent 39 years at The Roanoke Times as a reporter, editor and, for seven years, editorial page editor. During that time he twice won the Virginia Press Association’s D. Latham Mims Award for Editorial Leadership, and was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is the author of “When Hell Froze Over,” a book about Virginia politics, as well as an internationally-produced playwright. He lives in Fincastle. Continued from previous page Preparing students to be active and informed participants in civic and political life is a critical outcome of the higher education experience. Indeed, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recognizes its importance and added civic engagement as a core competency for public colleges and universities to assess in 2017 and more recently affirmed their commitment to strengthening democracy along with dozens of major national higher education associations and organizations. [i] [ii] This work seems more urgent than ever as countless public issues remain unresolved, as democratic principles are being challenged, and as at least one major report has described the United States as a backsliding[iii] democracy. Academic institutions have an opportunity to be part of the solution to these multipronged issues in efforts to best serve our students and our democracy. So how can we implement nonpartisan civic learning and democratic engagement in our colleges and universities? I write this as an academic-practitioner charged with answering that exact question for the past five years, though I speak for myself and my response does not reflect the views of my employer. First, we must recognize that our job is to prepare all students for meaningful engagement in our democracy—not just those majoring in political science or similar fields of study—and design programs accordingly. Public issues are deeply intertwined with every single academic program in our colleges and universities. Biology students should be exposed to the political realities of environmental policy and infectious disease mitigation. Business majors should learn about the many ways in which those working in the private sector interact with local, state and national political institutions and policies. Students studying performing and fine arts can learn inspiring examples of ways in which leaders in their fields leveraged their skills to raise awareness of problems and organize groups around ideas. Organizations such as the American Association for Colleges and Universities provide resources for university leaders to support this work, though it takes a steadfast commitment from senior leaders and boards of visitors to see it to fruition.[iv] Second, we must embrace the notion that student learning occurs beyond the walls of our classrooms and that the entire physical campus can be an important venue for civic learning and democratic engagement opportunities. A personal favorite approach to educating for democracy on a campus is through a Tent Talk program, which provides a space for students to learn about public issues and engage in facilitated conversations with each other. Topics are chosen based on student interest and presented through nonpartisan primers, discussion questions and suggested readings. In our hyperpartisan, politically polarized society, the Tent Talk program demystifies and normalizes discourse on public issues with the intention of signaling to a campus community that discussing politics is an important element of a vibrant democracy. It also provides participants with the opportunity to gain exposure to different perspectives on issues and allows them to practice engaging in conversations within a learningcentered environment. Tent Talks should be accompanied by voter registration opportunities to help students identify links between issues of concern and the electoral process. In fact, the Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to “make a good faith effort” to furnish every enrolled student with a voter registration form and Tent Talk programming be part of broader voter education and engagement plans.[v] Third, we must ensure that students—all students—learn the fundamental principles of American Democracy, especially at a time when they are being threatened. One opportunity is through Constitution Day, which colleges and universities are required to commemorate every year on or around September 17 by implementing educational programming on the United States Constitution.[vi] While many campuses choose to develop their own Constitution Day activities, institutions in Virginia and nationally have been collaborating in recent years to strengthen offerings. For example, 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment’s ratification affording 18-year-old citizens the right to vote. My colleagues created resources including a primer, timeline with links to relevant primary sources and a new recorded interview with Carolyn Quilloin Coleman—one of the See Now or Never: The Importance of Civic Engagement in the Commonwealth, continued on page 16 Now or Never: The Importance of Civic Engagement in the Commonwealth By ABRAHAM GOLDBERG V