Virginia Capitol Connections Summer 2022

Virginia Capitol Connections, Summer 2022 16 young Black civil rights activists leading the movement to lower the voting age—to be integrated into programming across the country. [vii] Beyond recognition of Constitution Day, some campuses require students to complete a course within general education programs that focus on American political institutions, founding documents and the continual struggle for the expansion of rights to historically excluded populations. It is absolutely critical that such courses are not reduced to whitewashed nostalgia, but instead provide students with an honest and clear-eyed view of the American experience and expose them to the tools that shape active and informed democratic participation. Fourth, to fully embrace higher education’s civic mission we must not abandon the communities in which our campuses are situated. Colleges and universities in Virginia are rightfully renowned for world-class research in areas spanning the academy and providing a high-quality educational experience for our students. Our institutions have long been a source of pride in the commonwealth; however, many campuses are in the exact same zip code as residents living with food insecurity, houselessness, transportation deserts and innumerable social and economic struggles. Preparing students to be active and informed participants in civic and political life without simultaneously leveraging resources to build capacity for our neighbors is simply immoral, doubles down on privilege and moves us further away from the more equitable democracy we aspire to be. Many campuses address this challenge through inspiring service-learning partnerships and community-facing health and wellness programming to name a few examples. However, we must also acknowledge the role that campuses can have in exacerbating the very problems we hope to solve in our communities through real estate acquisitions, policing, elevated housing costs and physically (and psychologically) separating campus-life from neighbors without a university affiliation. Davarian Baldwin’s recently published In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower is a must-read for those seeking a deeper Now or Never: The Importance of Civic Engagement in the Commonwealth from page 15 I had theprivilegeof takingProfessorGoldberg’sCivicEngagement class fall semester of my junior year. As a political science major, I felt as though I had a fairly well-rounded understanding of what it meant to be a so-called “civically engaged” citizen. What I failed to realize was that being civically engaged meant so much more than showing up to vote. Professor Goldberg emphasized that one must be cognizant of issues their communities are facing; especially when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Above all, being informed on matters at the local, state, and national levels is critical when it comes to being an active citizen in our democracy. In my view, it has never been more important for students to actualize their civic potential. Elise Weisenberger, JMU senior and Intern, David Bailey Associates understanding of these challenges, which are tragically common in our country.[viii] Institutions of higher education must build equitable partnerships with our communities even when (especially when) they are not legally obligated to do so. Civic engagement work on our campuses should be wedded to conversations about access to higher education and discussions should be approached with humility and an eagerness to listen and learn. Fifth, campuses must fully embrace principles of free speech and cultivate climates that are conducive for political learning and engagement. Caving to the temptation of inhibiting discourse as a way to project a harmonious campus in an otherwise polarized world does little to support civic engagement and likely silences those with legitimate and important grievances that require attention and rectification. My experience with student and faculty engagement is that it serves as a mechanism to encourage our institutions to be better versions of themselves. It also provides an important counterpoint to the deeply misguided and problematic narratives formed about disengaged youth. Anger and passion are more productive than ambivalence and muted discourse, especially when coupled with a learning-centered environment that embraces facts, diversity and pluralism. The Institute of Politics recently found declining rates of efficacy among young people, with over half agreeing that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing” and over a third agreeing that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results” in their national Harvard Youth Poll.[ix] We should be encouraged when students engage in political activity on our campuses as a sign that they have not given up on democracy and it would behoove of our institutions to allow such participation to help influence (not solely determine) outcomes. The work outlined in this piece is not exhaustive, nor is any element of it easy to accomplish. However, it should not be feared. Far more concerning would be to disregard the public issues our students are inheriting and to shield them from the political realities we face. Doing so would leave students ill-equipped to meaningfully engage in our political system and disregard the important opportunities for higher education to strengthen our democracy. [i] GuidancePolicy/assessment/civic-engagement-meeting-2017/civicengagement-statement.pdf [ii] [iii] [iv] [v]ht tps : / / /pkg/COMPS-765/pdf / COMPS-765.pdf [vi] [vii] [viii] shadow-of-the-ivory-tower/97815685 88919/ [ix] Abraham Goldberg earned his doctorate fromWest Virginia University, and he is an Associate Professor of Political Science at James Madison University. He regularly supervises undergraduate research projects and teaches courses in civic engagement, urban planning and policy, and American politics. Goldberg authored the South Carolina Civic Health Index (2014) in collaboration with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.V