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Campus Spotlight: UCO’s Constitution Week Programming 2012

University of Central Oklahoma: Constitution Week Programming: September 17-21, 28, 2012

By Mary Carver, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mass Communication and Leadership and Civic Engagement, Susan Scott, Ed.D., Professor of Educational Sciences, Foundations, and Research and American Democracy Project Student Organization Faculty Sponsor, and Emily Griffin Overocker, Director of Transfer Student Support and Co-Chair of the Naturalization Ceremony Committee

Constitution Week activities hosted by the American Democracy Project and Academic Affairs at the University of Central Oklahoma included a variety of activities which involved students, faculty, staff and the Oklahoma City community. It was a memorable week in big and small ways.

UCO Voter Registration Contest

UCO Voter Registration Contest

On Constitution Day we kicked off a voter registration drive. Each year Oklahoma Campus Compact sponsors a voter registration contest for universities across the state. Schools compete to see who can register the highest percentage of voters, with awards given in the small, medium and large school divisions. Efforts throughout the campus resulted in the registration of 1060 voters, 7.9 percent of the student body.

Students, faculty and staff came together to promote and assist with the voter registration drive.  The UCO American Democracy Project coordinated with students in the Leadership and Civic Engagement course, Pi Sigma Alpha (the political science honor society), Success Central courses, U.S. history courses, the Volunteer and Service Learning Center, the Women’s Outreach Center, Alpha Phi Alpha and Greek Life, Max Chambers Library, University Relations, the Wellness Center, Central 360 student TV station, The Vista student newspaper, and student housing to make the week a success. Students, staff and faculty worked together across campus to ensure as many people as possible were reached. It was amazing to see so many different people in different departments, colleges and areas of campus come together to be involved in this one goal.

As UCO student, Jerrah explained, “Helping with the voter registration drive on UCO’s campus was an experience that enabled me to truly understand the impact of holding other students accountable for their civic involvement as citizens of such a blessed nation. The fact that we won shows how much UCO students care about their communities and the decisions that impact them: living Central means engaging in and caring about our communities and their leaders!” Our efforts paid off, as UCO won the Oklahoma Campus Compact voter registration contest large school division for a third year in a row. More importantly, a thousand more Oklahomans will be more likely to vote in November.

Constitution Week celebrations ended with 118 individuals from thirty-three countries taking the Oath of Allegiance at the University of Central Oklahoma. The event had multiple components, all designed to recognize and honor our newest citizens. Four federal judges, Chief Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, Judge David L Russell, Judge Stephen P.Friot, and Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti from the US District Court, Western District of Oklahoma presided over the court. President Don Betz delivered a welcome that included the central role of civic engagement, global citizenship and responsibility, and the American Democracy Project on campus.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services presented the 118 applicants to the court for citizenship and Court Clerk Robert Dennis administered the Oath of Allegiance to their new country. In a moving show of allegiance, the applicants stood and recited the oath as it was written on their programs. To hear their voices as they renounced their former countries of origin could only cause pause to those of us who are born U.S. citizens as we contemplated the serious and life changing moment.

Students at the University of Central Oklahoma participated in the naturalization ceremony in several ways. Our ultimate goal was

US Courts, Western District of Oklahoma 2

US Courts, Western District of Oklahoma 2

to provide a transformative learning experience for our students, while honoring our new citizens through service learning. This was accomplished several ways. First a small Citizenship Fair was set up and information related to the students’ programs were provided to our new citizens and their families.

Two courses created projects for the new citizens. One course, a computer class, designed buttons for the new citizens to wear. The other course designed a personalized souvenir notecard and the students wrote welcome notes to each new citizen. Members of the class hand delivered the notecards. Corrie, one of the students who wrote a card said, “I hoped to make the new citizens feel welcome and accepted when they read our cards. I also wanted to show them that they should be very proud of their accomplishment.”

Finally, one of the UCO leadership courses volunteered to serve as hosts and helpers from the beginning to the end. They took great effort to serve the new citizens and their families in so many ways including helping them register to vote. They personally went to each new citizen and provided them with voter registration information. Their friendly faces helped the new citizens feel welcomed and honored. One student, Amber said, “It was so unique to see new citizens so excited about their citizenship and so thrilled to get to vote in this year’s election.”

Karla Dougherty, new citizen

The naturalization ceremony was well attended by the UCO community. Sarah, UCO student said, “Watching the ceremony made me feel really thankful that I was born in America, so I naturally have my citizenship.  I realized that so many people work very hard to become citizens of this country. I feel very blessed.”  (Watch ceremony here.) She goes on to share why she felt hosting a naturalization ceremony at our university is important, “Students at a university are learning, not only to expand their scholarly knowledge, but to expand their views on the world as well. The world is a very complex place with so many different types of people.  Seeing a naturalization ceremony is a good way to for students to witness the diversity that makes up our great country.”

As we prepared for the naturalization ceremony many of the students took time to understand the arduous and costly process. It also provided a time for self-reflection where one considered their own citizenship. At the same time, one new citizen, Aura, shared that the experience was professional and touching. She also went on to say that her new U. S. citizenship provides stability and a great place to raise her son. Those of us born in the United States and who attend UCO were given a rare glimpse of the journey to naturalized citizenship through the stories and faces of those who take on this quest. It was transformative, not only for the new citizens, but for those of us who participated in the naturalization ceremony with them.

To learn more about ADP at UCO, go here.

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