Wesleyan’s Democracy 2024 Initiative Inspires Active Citizenship
June 24, 2024

​In anticipation of the upcoming election, ACE member Wesleyan University is making civic education a priority through an initiative called Democracy 2024, or D2024.Responding to increasing threats to academic freedom and democratic institutions from elected officials, the university aims to teach students about the importance of civic life, engage them in the democratic process, and equip them to protect democracy.

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth believes this is a vital issue for the higher education sector. “Whatever party or candidates one supports,” he wrote in a Salon op-ed, “colleges and universities must defend democracy to defend their very mission, to defend their values of free inquiry and teaching. At this time that means calling out the dangers of tyranny while inspiring democratic practices among young people.”

D2024 builds on Engage 2020 (E2020), an initiative Wesleyan spearheaded four years ago. Through E2020, Wesleyan mobilized over 300 other institutions to provide opportunities for students to learn about and participate in the electoral process.

E2020 was based on three principles:

  1. Developing civic preparedness is a core element of the mission of American higher education;
  2. Participating in American political life helps students learn from a diversity of ideas and people while developing skills for lifelong, active citizenship; and
  3. Empowering students and teachers to engage with the complex issues facing the country are crucial facets of higher education’s contributions to the common good.

These principles continue to guide D2024, which has a particular emphasis on experiential learning.

Students can receive funding to participate in political and advocacy campaigns through the Political Engagement Fund. The program enables students to immerse themselves in civic life, whether by traveling to other states to staff political campaigns; forging partnerships with local organizations; or conducting outreach campaigns, workshops, or voter registration drives on campus.

“My E2020 project absolutely impacted me and my actions leading up to the election,” said Dani Dittmann, who received a Political Engagement Fund grant in 2020 to intern for a candidate for a state legislative seat. “My experience definitely ignited something within me to ensure I was making some kind of tangible difference.”

In addition, Wesleyan gathered students, faculty, and staff, for the Democracy in Action convening in February, a two-day event that explored the intersection of higher education and democracy. The convening included events for Wesleyan students, like a workshop on media literacy and a civic action fair, which highlighted advocacy organizations on and near campus. It also featured sessions, led by faculty and other experts, on media and democracy, art and activism, and the role of higher education institutions in preserving democracy.

Other components of D2024 include developing a list of recommended courses that deal with civics, encouraging students to declare a minor in civic engagement, hosting lectures that examine aspects of the democratic and legislative processes, and preparing a guide to help students vote.

Roth, urging other institutions to join Wesleyan’s efforts, wrote, “We must affirm the core principles of civic education and take specific actions to defend democracy while it is still possible to do so.”

Photo courtesy of Wesleyan University