“What does it mean to be a citizen of a nation that is at war? What are my options for making my voice heard? How do we maintain civil discourse when we disagree?”
Questions like this are due for debate in a “community conversation” on Civil Discourse and War during IUP’s current academic year. The debate is part of a much larger effort to encourage students to participate and grow as citizens.
Veronica Watson, dean’s associate in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, is coordinating that larger effort, called the Citizenship and Civic Engagement Initiative. It will continue throughout the year and will include a variety of activities and events.
“We won’t necessarily sponsor events but will identify those that connect to the initiative,” Watson said. “At every event, a list will be available to students of ways to get involved as an outgrowth of the event—sort of a citizen’s roadmap.”
In addition to events and exhibits, the initiative will include a campaign to write letters to students who have been called to military active duty.
IUP is not alone in this effort. Indeed, it has nearly 150 partners—all member campuses of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. All are engaged in the American Democracy Project, which, according to the AASCU, is “a multi-campus initiative that seeks to create an intellectual and experiential understanding of civic engagement for undergraduates….The goal of the project is to produce graduates who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful actions as citizens in a democracy.”
Among events planned or supported by IUP’s initiative are a speech by Jehmu Greene, president of Rock theVote; a presentation by Dafmark Theatre group of Unsilenced Voices, a performance piece with dance, chamber music, and the spoken word; a rotating library exhibit of books and images that have been banned or suppressed nationally and internationally; and a panel discussion on “Media Bias: The War on Journalism.”
Readers of IUP Magazine are already familiar with Alternative Spring Break, in which students for the past few years have performed public service in such diverse settings as rural Tennessee and New York City. In the current academic year, that program and other volunteer service efforts will be tied to the Citizenship and Civic Engagement Initiative.
According to IUP President Tony Atwater, who has made the initiative a priority, “Americans have gotten away from concern for their communities. This initiative will give students an awareness of what’s important and will also provide opportunity for leadership experience. Faculty members, too, will have a role in the effort as public intellectuals.”
A board composed of members from the university and larger community is managing the initiative. Watson said the group is looking for ways to support additional valuable student activities. “There’s a limit to what can be done with state money,” she said.
The group, she said, is also looking for space: “We want to identify offices and spaces students can use as they become more civically engaged.”