When we started ADP in 2003, AASCU and chief academic officers at our member campuses were concerned about the Robert Putnam’s observations in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001) as well as with the low voter participation of college students and young people more broadly. Together we embarked on a vision of our state colleges and universities taking a central role in fostering the civic health of our campuses and our communities by creating opportunities for students to enhance their knowledge and skills as well as to reflect on and examine their attitudes towards community and democratic engagement. We’ve made it our collective mission to prepare students to be informed, engaged citizens for our communities and our democracy.
And together we’ve accomplished a lot: we’ve established initiatives that focus on increasing nonpartisan political engagement; on fostering dialogue and deliberation around pressing public issues and across difference, on understanding the competing interests at play in our national parks and how the policy process works, and on reaching Millennials and others through emergent digital and social media platforms.
And yet, in the month since the election, our work has become more important than ever before.
The 2016 presidential election has surfaced deep divides in the U.S. electorate. We continue to bear witness to a rise in hateful, racist commentary and behaviors on our campuses, in our communities, and from some politicians. While ADP remains nonpartisan, we actively affirm the values of diversity, equity, and access in public higher education and in our democracy. We also affirm the need for civility from our politicians, the value of informed discourse on issues, and the growing importance of civic literacy in our digital age.
Elections play a critical role in our democracy. Yet our democratic way of life is about so much more than elections. Now is the time for us to recommit to our civic learning and democratic engagement work. We must refocus on fostering in students a sense of civic agency and help ourselves and our students identify ways to and develop skills with which to navigate our increasingly fractured political terrain and make positive change in our communities.
1. Campus Coordinators — watch for information about a call in the next week or so Join during which we will discuss ways in which campuses are approaching the upcoming inauguration and accompanying protests as well as providing spaces for campus and community dialogue across difference and advocacy of our core values around inclusivity, equity and education.
2. We are organizing a Digital Polarization Initiative lead by Mike Caulfield of ADP’s Washington State University Vancouver. Together we’ll examine the “fake news” controversy and growing polarization in news feeds and opinions and begin to “debug the news.” Stay tuned for details next week, including how you can get involved.
3. We’ll create space at our 2017 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting in Baltimore from June 7-10th with our student affairs and community college colleagues at NASPA and The Democracy Commitment, respectively, to continue to foster discussion and action as to how to continue to best prepare informed and engaged citizens for our democracy. You can submit program proposals for this conference here before January 30th.
Thank you for the work that all of you have done and will continue to do to ensure the robustness of our democratic way of life. Together we will forge a path toward justice and freedom for all.