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Campus Spotlight: Western Carolina University

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

Civic engagement scholars and practitioners often site knowledge about government as an important element of citizenship development. This makes good sense. If citizens are going to solve societal problems and interact with elected officials, it is important that they understand governmental structures. Our nation’s Constitution is likely one of the most important documents for citizens to familiarize themselves with. Constitution Day was created as one way to assure that more citizens will learn about and celebrate this governing document. Constitution Day takes place on September 17th and celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Each educational institution in the United States that receives federal funding must observe this holiday. In the ADP, many campuses have transformed this little-known federal mandate into an opportunity to reflect on our government, our liberties, and our obligations as citizens in this democracy.

Some ADP campuses have extended celebrations of and conversations about the Constitution beyond this holiday by incorporating Constitutional programming into ongoing campus activities. Western Carolina University in North Carolina is one such enterprising institution. Western Carolina has tied discussions about the Constitution into its  Quality Enhancement Planning (QEP) process. The Student Affairs and Undergraduate Studies departments at Western Carolina are hosting a semester-long celebration of the First Amendment as part of the QEP process. Faculty members are encouraged to develop lectures, workshops, exhibits, multimedia projects, and other programs with the goal of educating the Western Carolina community about the First Amendment. Administrators at Western Carolina are encouraging a variety of faculty members from different disciplines to consider how a program about the First Amendment might fit into their disciplinary work. Part of Western Carolina’s goal is to get each person on campus to talk and think about how the First Amendment relates to their daily lives.

What is particularly compelling about the Western Carolina project is that it is using a mandatory university process (QEP) to increase the campus community’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution. One distinctive thing about the ADP is its focus on institutional intentionality. Institutional intentionality can be defined as how an individual institution organizes its resources and activities to achieve specific institutional goals. Civic engagement programming must be institutionalized on individual campuses so that all students have the opportunity to develop as citizens. By incorporating civic education into their QEP process, Western Carolina is demonstrating its level of institutional intentionality.

In ADP, we work to educate “informed, engaged citizens.” It is campus programming like Western Carolina’s that builds student civic knowledge and helps us realize our goal of educating future citizens for our democracy.

For more information, please contact Carol Burton, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies, at Western Carolina University.

Question: How might you use existing campus functions to educate students as citizens?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Here’s an update to this story: One of the launching First Amendment activities!


    January 27, 2011

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