Guest Blog Post by Raven Dohuky, Sophomore, Middle Tennessee State University
About Raven Dohuky:
Live, love, laugh is my thought on life, as a Kurdish American living in Nashville, Tennessee. I was born on March 13, 1991, in Kurdistan, Iraq. (Did you know that there are more Kurds living in Middle Tennessee than anywhere else in the entire U.S.?) My family migrated to America shortly after I was born during the Gulf War. We were prisoners in our own land, deprived of freedom and opportunities, and we had no choice but to flee and become refugees. And that’s how I got my name: Raven means “of refuge” in Kurdish, and my last name refers to the city of Dohuk where my family is from. I am currently a sophomore and proud member of the American Democracy Project at Middle Tennessee State University, working part time as pharmacy technician at a retail pharmacy. I hope to become a pharmacist in the not-too-distant future. As a Kurd assimilating in America, I try as much as possible to keep my heritage and culture alive. I always have the mindset of being grateful for what I have and who I have in my life.
American Democracy Project at MTSU
At Middle Tennessee State University, the American Democracy Project has many faces, takes many forms, and operates across many layers of our university, for civic outreach and community involvement. ADP works through both our faculty and our students, promoting democratic engagement and civic learning. We are continually trying to do more.
ADP MTSU Students (from L to R): Forest Stroud, Raven Dohuky, Josh Moore & Kelsey Tellez
One way ADP is visible on our campus is through our American Democracy Project Student Organization, under the auspices of Student Affairs and the MTSU Center for Student Involvement and Leadership. Dr. Mary Evins, who’s the campus coordinator for ADP, is our faculty advisor. Our student organization’s goal is to work to produce MTSU graduates who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful actions as citizens in our democracy. At MTSU, ADP is very active throughout campus and in all our nine colleges. We raise awareness about what is happening across campus and our community, and we’re intentional in our commitment to help raise our fellow students’ awareness and citizenship and to excite their interest in our shared public purposes: to make good citizenship cool. ADP is absolutely nonpartisan, so there are no party politics allowed. We sponsor voter registration drives and candidate forums, but we do all that without any party affiliation.
Here’s how I got involved in ADP:
Right after my freshman year of college, Dr. Evins got in touch with me. She emailed me after I took a history class with her, and she asked if I might like to join the campus American Democracy Project. At first I wasn’t too excited about it. On further consideration I realized it would be a great opportunity for me, to participate and get involved in the community; but mainly, I must admit, I thought it would look good on a resume. As I walked into the ADP meeting on the first day of school, I honestly had no clue what I was getting myself into. Yet as I listened to Dr. Evins and the other ADP students, I started looking forward to what else the club might be able to accomplish.
We have indeed accomplished many goals, just in the time I’ve been involved, and we’re continuing to achieve more. There’s a recycling policy study we’re continuing from last spring; we’ve been doing voter registration drives all year; our students are trying persistently, along with our local county’s election commission, to develop a public polling place on our campus of 26,000 students; we’re making informational flyers for incoming MTSU freshmen for this summer, to inform them right away about how to get registered to vote in the November presidential election, and also to teach them about MTSU’s recycling opportunities; our ADP students cooperate with the student environmental organization on campus, particularly this year since the Tennessee legislature is reconsidering its position on mountaintop removal policy in the Smoky and Cumberland Mountains. We were involved two years ago in tobacco-free-campus policy research that made a significant contribution toward the development of our brand new “MT Tobacco Free” university tobacco-free policy, which commenced here on January 1 of this year. We’re pushing now for good-citizenship compliance and also for healthy enforcement of the new policy, and we’re trying to organize a campus-wide clean-up for this spring to get rid of unsightly cigarette butts on the campus grounds.
One of my first real involvements with ADP was during Constitution Week last fall. We were honored to have Chairman James Leach of the National Endowment for the Humanities as our guest speaker during Constitution Week activities. We worked diligently on voter registration throughout that very visible campus celebration. It was shocking to me to see for myself how little knowledge our students have about politics, the upcoming presidential election, and even current issues that affect our daily lives. From that moment on, I was eager to become even more involved with ADP and to share the growing knowledge and enthusiasm I’ve been fast developing with my fellow students. So lots of ideas are in the making for us, and we always love new, from-the-ground-up ideas. The new students who join our organization every semester bring with them fresh energy, insights, creativity, and heart to our public engagement.
Just this month ADP helped host Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who came to our campus and city for a lecture and public dialogue. She spoke about her “iCivics” initiative (www.icivics.org) for K-12, which she’s worked on since her retirement from the Supreme Court and about which she is proud. Our Dean of Liberal Arts, Dr. Mark Byrnes, told her at the community lecture about our own American Democracy Project initiative for civic learning. And we were proud. Attached is a photograph of a few of the ADP students after Justice O’Connor’s lecture at MTSU; I’m the short brunette in the front.
As I work side by side with my fellow ADP members, I absolutely realize that the public work we do through ADP is most assuredly not about “looking good on a resume,” it’s about being educated, about empowerment, and being engaged in the world in which we live. After all, we as responsible citizens need to be aware right now of what the future holds for us and how we must impact it for good by our actions in the present. We must understand our own individual responsibilities and know that how we live now directly affects our country, its culture, and the fast-growing environment in which we live. We have a voice and we need to take control.
I have certainly incorporated my new skills for personal action into my own life. I work in the pharmacy of a large national grocery store chain in Nashville, and I have just submitted to my manager a plan to expand our company’s recycling capabilities for the store. I have learned to express myself and I am empowered to act.
One thing I hold close to my heart and would like to recommend to everyone is to educate yourself about the world around you and when you see something that needs fixing, then you fix it. Because I am a Kurdish American who came to my new country as a political refugee, the political direction of this country, and of the world, is powerfully, personally important to me.
Read more about MTSU’s ADP here.