Posts Tagged '#CitizenVoter'

ETS Study Shows How Colleges Can Help Students Become Active Voters

This is a re-post of a blog story that originally appeared on the blog of the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN). FELN’s nonpartisan Campus Vote Project (CVP) is a partner and friend of ADP. Take a look at this summary of the new ETS report Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States. Dan Vicuna, the author of this blog story and CVP’s Coordinator will be at the ADP National Meeting in San Antonio. If you’d like to meet with him to learn more about CVP and how to connect your campus work with CVP, you can email him at CVP will also have a table at the Campus and Friends Showcase on Saturday, June 9 from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm.

As you gear up to register students for the November 2012 elections, make sure to check out CVP’s Campus Vote Project toolkit and other resources!

– Jen Domagal-Goldman, ADP National Manager

ETS Study Shows How Colleges Can Help Students Become Active Voters

By: Dan Vicuna, Coordinator of FELN’s Campus Vote Project

An Educational Testing Service (ETS) study on education and civic engagement demonstrates the role that colleges and universities can play in helping students become active and informed voters. The study suggests that many students arrive at college with limited knowledge of civics. For example, ETS found that only about one-quarter of American students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade achieved a “proficient” designation in civics, a level demonstrating solid academic performance. The study’s authors argue that voter turnout is likely to suffer as a result of this academic shortfall.

The study also examined the importance of establishing voting as a habit. ETS found that a young adult who voted in the 2004 election was 30 percent more likely to vote in the 2006 election than a young adult who did not vote in 2004. The authors concluded that voting in 2004 “played the most powerful role in voting in 2006.”

ETS argues that colleges and universities “can play a more active role in encouraging voting and civic participation at all levels by their students.” By helping students overcome the barriers to registration and voting that disproportionately affect them, colleges can set their students on a lifelong path of active civic engagement.

Colleges can implement reforms detailed in the Campus Vote Project toolkit to ensure that students have access to registration and voting information. For example, schools can increase understanding of the issues at stake by organizing election awareness campaigns. Administrators can also support student-run voter registration blitzes and organize student poll worker programs to encourage active participation in the 2012 elections.

For more information on the ways that FELN’s Campus Vote Project can work with your school to increase student participation in this year’s elections, contact Dan Vicuna at (202) 331-0114 or


Re-posted from FELN’s blog; see the original post here.

Footage from the Civic Agency Institute: Harry Boyte on We the People

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

“It’s important for us as academics to recognize that our knowledge is less important than the community’s knowledge. As an academic, you are on tap – not on top. It is essential for communities to develop their own power.” – Harry Boyte

For those of you who weren’t able to join us in DC for the third annual Civic Agency Institute, please see below for footage from the event. In this video, Harry Boyte elaborates on We the People and explains how we might describe our work to others. This is an amazing and short (15 minutes long) speech that lays the groundwork for We the People.

The song is “We Are the Ones” by Melissa Etheridge.

Dennis Donovan at Castleton College: The Frontlines of Civic Agency in Education

Dennis Donovan conducted a training at Castleton State College in late October

Dennis Donovan conducted a training at Castleton State College in late October

“Castleton College has all the ingredients to become a higher education ‘democracy demonstration’ site for us and a leader in Public Achievement and the We the People movement,” said Dennis Donovan after his visit to the American Democracy Project Civic Agency Initiative school in Vermont.

Over the course of three days in October, Donovan conducted trainings and workshops for Castleton students, faculty, administrators, and community members. In the campus-wide event, titledInstitutionalizing Civic Engagement through Organizing, participants learned to “understand and distinguish between three ways of conceptualizing democracy and what it means to be a student, faculty, or community leader, and also began to practice community organizing skills.”

Castleton College first became involved in civic engagement through the leadership of its Academic Dean Joe Mark in the 1990s and eventually began sending a core group to the American Democracy Project’s annual conferences on “educating citizens” from 2003 onward. In 2008, Castleton was invited to join the American Democracy Project’s Civic Agency Initiative, which “seeks to further develop and operationalize the concept of civic agency” by “producing a series of national models for developing civic agency among undergraduates.”

The concept of civic agency involves developing the capacity of citizens to collaboratively solve problems. It entails a marked change in culture to adopt “practices, habits, norms, symbols, and ways of life that enhance or diminish capacities for collective action.” Castleton is unique in that as opposed to having one center or project designed to spread concepts of civic agency, its focus is infusing ideas into the whole campus.

“The institution is designed with so many opportunities and experiences that students will naturally bump into things,” says Academic Dean Joe Mark. “The college will never demand outright that people do civic agency, as this approach doesn’t work. Civic agency is not a graduation requirement — we want it ubiquitous, but not mandated.”

And ubiquitous it is. Concepts of civic agency have been incorporated into Castleton’s orientation practices, RA program in campus dorms, student government and other student groups, curriculum on service learning, education department curriculum, and interactions between faculty members, as well as Castleton projects with the broader community.

“Castleton has made a conscious effort to ‘graft’  civic agency concepts onto a lot of different programs to create culture change and a tipping point,” says Dean of Students Dennis Proulx. “The goal of Dennis’s training was to unite all of the grafts and expose bigger themes and it worked.”

Changes are already afoot in Castleton’s work with the Slate Valley Teen Center and partnership between the athletics department and a local elementary school. There has been a greater shift in thinking to considering the teens and elementary students as “co-creators” within these two initiatives, and allowing them to have a greater participatory effort through use of the Public Achievement model. People are getting excited.

Academic Dean Joe Mark also noted the progress of the student government after Dennis’s visit. Ryan Badinelli, the treasurer in Castleton’s student government, was first exposed to civic agency from attending an American Democracy Project conference and did not know what to expect. He describe civic agency as changing both Castleton and himself.

“The college has grown in prestige, academics, diversity — growth from community engagement and the idea that everyone has the ability to succeed,” says Baldinelli. “In the push for civic agency, students are beginning to realize that Castleton is there for them. Dennis Donovan was able to bring more understanding to people about what is going on in this movement. People need to meet Harry and Dennis, who have powerful ideas.”


What about Students?

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

Yesterday I had a wonderful phone conversation with Martin Carcasson and Jack Becker of Colorado State University. Martin is a Communications Studies professor and Jack is one of his students. Jack is planning a student civics conference in Oxford, Ohio, March 16-19, 2011 (details below), and we spent a lot of time talking about this event. The theme of the conference is “The Citizens’ Toolbox: What’s in Yours?” and it will be a follow up to last year’s “Connect the Dots” student conference. I was inspired to hear Jack talk about his work with planning the conference. It was clear to me that Jack had ample opportunities throughout his undergraduate experience to take leadership roles in civic engagement projects. Because of these experiences, Jack is able to use the skills he’s gained to plan this national student conference on civic engagement. For me, he is a perfect example of what a student can do when they have acquired a robust set of civic and professional skills. And he has these civic skills in his tool box because faculty members like Martin believe in the power and importance of working with students.

I have spent the last four years as ADP Manager pushing for increased student involvement in our programs. It is my belief that without student involvement, we will not be successful. It has to be a top-down, bottom-up movement if it’s going to work. Administrators are very important. They are key to institutionalizing civic engagement programming, they offer strategic vision, and they hold the purse strings. It’s important to get faculty to buy into civic education because they are the ones who are teaching students and, more importantly, are often the sources of inspiration for students. But it’s equally important to get students involved because they have the energy, passion, motivation, and ideas that we need in order to design programs that will appeal to and shape students.

Too often, I attend events in the civic engagement world that are mainly attended by people in senior positions and I always ask myself, “Where are the students?” We all sit around and talk about students in a way that makes them seem theoretical to our work, and yet we don’t engage them. I have become a nuisance at these types of events because I now ask, “Where are the students? You want to do important civic engagement work that will affect students, but you’re not inviting their participation in meetings like this.” If we really want to change higher education, if we really want to design programs that will inspire and engage students, if we really want to do substantive, community-based work that has long-lasting impacts, we must partner with our students in equitable and meaningful ways.

Thankfully, I am not alone in my belief that student leadership and collaboration is central to the success of the American Democracy Project. My shared passion for student involvement has been evidenced by the increasing number of students that are working with faculty members in ADP chapters all over the country. It is also evidenced by the number of students that are attending our various events. Last week, 25 students attended the Civic Agency Institute. At last year’s ADP National Meeting, 75 of our 370 participants were students. This year, I anticipate even more students will be in Orlando for our National Meeting. Students are now leading sessions at our Institutes and Conferences, providing valuable ideas and input for faculty members about civic engagement programming, and they are rolling up their sleeves and working in partnership with faculty members, staff, and administrators to do the difficult work of institutionalizing civic engagement on campus.

For those of you who already work with students in your civic engagement projects, kudos! As many in my generation would say, “you know what’s up!” For those of you who don’t yet, I encourage you to find passionate students on campus to work with (trust me, this will not be hard!). Give them responsibility. Ask for their input. Seek their expertise and knowledge when developing programs/events/community-university partnerships, etc. Not only will you be giving them an opportunity to develop their civic and leadership skills, but you will be astounded by how much richer your civic engagement work will be because of your students.

Check out Jack’s upcoming student conference, “The Citizens Toolbox: What’s in Yours?” It will take place in Oxford, Ohio, March 16-19, 2011. For more information about this exciting student conference, please visit this website.

Question: How have you collaborated with students on your campus to do civic engagement work? And, students, how have you worked with faculty members?

Georgia College Gets Political

By Gregg Kaufman, Georgia College ADP Coordinator

The Georgia College American Democracy Project collaborated with university/community partners, Digital Bridges and the Union Recorder newspaper to sponsor local, state, and federal candidate forums during the 2010 election season. The Digital Bridges Knight Innovation Center is a Georgia College initiative, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to assist Milledgeville, Georgia, a wireless community, by providing the public and local business community with technology resources.

The candidate forum series used candidate social network media and created video interviews that were placed on the Digital Bridges website.  Georgia College Political Science faculty and students helped record “person-on-the-street” interviews where local citizens and university students posed questions for the candidates. The national Ten Questions website was also used to solicit questions for the U.S. Congressional District 12 candidate forum. The Congressional primary and general election forums, as well as the local school board and state representative and senate forums, were streamed live via the Internet and recorded for re-broadcast on local cable television and the Georgia College iTunes University page.

Georgia College faculty members helped moderate the forums, and in the case of the local school board races, convened a post-debate open forum among the candidates and the audience at the Knight Innovation Center to discuss educational issues.

The mid-term election collaborative efforts advanced beyond conventional media outlet political coverage by providing citizens additional access to their political candidates through the use of digital media and face-to-face encounters.   The collaborators anticipate learning from the experiment and building on their experience for the 2012 election cycle.

We the People Part 3

By Harry Boyte, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

“Something is stirring,” Cecilia Orphan wrote on the ADP blog, Thursday night of the Civic Agency meeting held last week, November 11th and 12th, at the state college and university building in Washington DC. More than 60 people discussed their work over the last year and made plans for a “We the People” (WtheP) effort to change customer service government – government which mainly does things for the people — into government of the people and by the people. In  the We the People vision, government is our meeting ground, partner and common instrument in addressing our problems and building a shared life.  Teams from 18 colleges and universities joined with representatives of Rock the Vote, Sojourners, the White House Office of Social Innovation, community colleges,  the American Library Association, National Issues Forums and Strengthening our Nation’s Democracy network, among others.

Among many important steps forward, I want to highlight three:

  • Empowerment gap. A focus on the empowerment gap needs to replace the achievement gap. Rom Coles, Director of the Community, Culture and Environment Center, Miguel Vasquez, professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University, and other colleagues described the remarkable organizing work in the area around Flagstaff on issues ranging from weatherization and sustainable environments, to immigrant rights, water, and youth empowerment through Public Achievement. Against a tide of fear-mongering politics, Vasquez won a seat on the Flagstaff board of education on the platform of “the empowerment gap.” His focus on the empowerment gap highlights that the deepest problem in our education is that young people – especially children and teens of low income, minority, and immigrant backgrounds – feel “acted upon,” not agents of their education. A We the People movement will have as a central emphasis closing “the empowerment gap,” empowering young people to take leadership in developing the kind of education they need to be shapers of their lives, agents of change, and co-creators of healthy communities and the democracy.
  • Public knowledge: There were many examples of a deepening in what Nancy Kranich, former president of the American Library Association and head of its new Center for Public Life, called “public knowledge.” Public knowledge involves developing ways to continuously learn from our mistakes, our successes, and our ongoing work. I was struck especially by the innovations in Public Achievement in many settings – Georgia College, Northern Arizona, Central Connecticut, Lincoln, and elsewhere. Many other examples emerged as well — “Tuesday Teas” at Western Kentucky, which offer ways for the campus and community to exchange and discuss experiences every week; debriefings of student weatherization efforts in Flagstaff, which help students learn from their community experience, the efforts of students at Lincoln and Florida A&M University to develop new forms of community service which empower, instead of provide charity. As Gary Paul pointed out in his concluding remarks, learning from the gritty, real, everyday work of making change is the way people develop “political sobriety” and a “prophetic imagination.” These point beyond the givens, allow us to work with people who make us uncomfortable,  and cultivate a long term perspective.
  • A new public narrative: We the People is not something in the future – it is emerging all over the place, as our colleagues, students,  staff, and faculty rework relations with elected officials and other decision making bodies to be partners in public work, not mainly providers of services. The outstanding example is at University of Maryland/Baltimore County, where Yasmin Karimian and her fellow students have fundamentally reworked student government (the SGA) into a center for activating the public work of students and creating a different, more collaborative and respectful relationship between students, faculty, and the administration. One of the highlights of the organizing conference for me was the interconnection between these local examples of public work and large scale change – a connection which Paul Markham at Western Kentucky argues will be the centerpiece of the emerging movement. In the session on “Creating a Citizen Demand for ‘We the People’ Democracy, with Norm Ornstein, one of the nation’s leading political analysts, and Marta Urquilla, senior policy analyst with the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, we pointed to UMBC student government as a model for governments at every level to learn from – a return to government of and by the people.

Overall, many agreed that the challenge of American revitalization depends upon developing a new public narrative in which all participate and help to craft. It will be full of argument and difference on issues ranging from immigrants to the nature and content of education for the 21st century and the meaning of “the good life,” in a culture in which many students feel we’ve gone too far toward consumerism and “the rat race” (as students told me recently about their parents’ generation, at Lone Star community college in Houston Texas). But it will also be full of rich local stories of citizens shifting from complainers, victims,  consumers, and supplicants of government to “owners of the store,” makers of change, agents and architects of the democracy.

The Civic Agency/We the People working meeting in Washington convinced me, yet again, the state colleges and universities will provide crucial leadership.

Reflecting on the Civic Agency Institute and Our Work Ahead

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

We had a wonderful conclusion to our two-day institute in Washington, DC. On the second day, our campuses started mapping the next two years of their work. While being facilitated by two students from Middle Tennessee State University, each of the 18 campuses represented at the Institute presented their early action plans. I am both inspired and impressed by what their plans entail.

This work calls for a lot of community organizing – power mapping, one-to-ones, relationship building, etc. The university leaders that attended our meeting are among the most talented and dedicated people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. They are passionate about making government by the people a reality. And they understand the paramount importance of working with students to make this happen. Finally, they believe deeply in the democratic purpose of higher education and see themselves as instrumental to realizing this purpose.

Over the next few months, I’ll feature stories of the early work of our campuses on the blog as they agitate students to solve local problems with elected officials. The theme of our national conference in Orlando, June 2-4, 2011, will be animated by “We the People.” We’ve driven the ideas of “We the People” into the theme of the national meeting which is, “Beyond Voting: Citizenship in the New Era.” During the ADP Meeting we will explore what it means to be a citizen. In the conference programming, we will pay special attention to models for successful community-elected officials partnerships and the progress we’ve made in the first seven months of this new phase of our work.

I recorded Harry’s closing remarks and will share those in the next week or so after editing. Not quite sure what We the People is? Read this blog post. Not sure what Civic Agency is? Visit this website. And if you’d like to get involved in the movement,contact me!

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