A Strong Democracy
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the official launch of Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic at the University of Delaware at Newark. As Delaware was added to the former Maryland - DC Campus Compact, students, presidents, faculty, and administrators from Higher Education and K-12 were joined by local and state-wide government, business and community leaders to celebrate.
As a former Board Chair of the MD-DC Campus Compact, I was proud to see the work of diverse institutions committed to civic engagement growing. One of the joys of serving on the board had been interacting with colleagues from outside my usual world of community colleges. Small religious institutions, major research universities and HBCU’s were finding ways to provide students with opportunities for service learning that were appropriate to their own missions, but had much in common. At lunch I sat with representatives from Gallaudet University. I had a chance to learn about the unique challenges they face in serving their deaf students and the national community they represent, as well as their surrounding area in Washington D.C.
One of the featured speakers at the launch was Dr. Andrew Seligsohn, President of Campus Compact. In speaking about the work of this national organization on the individual, institutional and local and global community levels, Dr. Seligsohn stressed that strong citizens and strong communities are a prerequisite to a strong democracy. What follows, based in part on his remarks, are my reflections on what "strong citizens" and "strong communities" mean.
A strong citizen has access to education that is not limited by race, gender, poverty, location or any other barrier. Access includes access to the technology that is necessary for academic success.
A strong citizen is a full participant in the economy. Jobs that earn a living wage, job training, viable modes of transportation to these jobs, access to health care, and the availability of reasonably priced healthy food are critical to this participation.
A strong citizen understands his or her rights and responsibilities in a democracy and has an unabridged opportunity to be heard and to vote. A strong citizen can think critically about local and global issues.
A strong citizen is, at times, willing to make sacrifices for the common good.
Strong communities are made up of strong citizens. These communities understand the interdependence of their neighborhoods, towns and cities and of their community with others in a global society. They are committed to mutual problem-solving through discussion and compromise. They take the impact of their decisions on the future into consideration when they enact policy.
The Campus Compact 30th. Anniversary Action Statement includes these "Commitments":
We empower our students, faculty, staff, and community partners to co-create mutually respectful partnerships in pursuit of a just, equitable, and sustainable future for communities beyond the campus – nearby and throughout the world.
We prepare our students for lives of engaged citizenship with the motivation and capacity to deliberate, act and lead in pursuit of the public good.
"Co-creation" is an essential element of this statement. One of the other speakers was a student who said, “listen to us.” Institutions engaged in this work must first ask the communities they hope to serve to define their needs and priorities.
The news is filled with commentary about the failing state of our democracy, as those in power seek to limit the strength of citizens and communities who may challenge them. Campus compact and its partners are committed to maintaining a strong democracy by building strong citizens and strong communities. Civically engaged students are our future leaders. Individually, regionally and nationally they will make a difference.