Register for May 21 ACE Engage Webinar Strengthening Democracy and Student Civic Involvement During Crisis
May 11, 2020

New Engage Community of Practice to Be Launched Focusing on These Issues

All of higher education is confronting the challenge of engaging students and maintaining a sense of community during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as campuses are shuttered and college and university leaders plan for the best way to reopen in the fall.

Along with its tremendous challenges, however, the pandemic and its aftermath offers opportunities for promoting to college students a lifelong commitment to civic engagement, contributing to the common good, and strengthening democratic institutions.

In a May 21 webinar, Promoting Civic Engagement and Democracy in a Global Pandemic, exclusively on the ACE Engage® professional learning platform, three prominent higher education leaders will discuss the ways some institutions have developed effective community engagement strategies that contribute to student learning and personal development. Moderated by ACE Vice President for Global Engagement Brad Farnsworth, the webinar will feature Jonathan Alger, president of James Madison University; Katrina Rogers, president of Fielding Graduate University; and William V. Flores, former President, University of Houston-Downtown.

“We invite you to share your stories of what your campus, your students, faculty, staff, and alumni are doing each day—even in the midst of this pandemic—to make America a better place for all of us," Alger said.

Following the webinar, these three leaders will help launch an ACE Engage Community of Practice providing opportunities for deeper exploration of these topics and collaboration between higher education professionals. There will be more information about this new Community of Practice during the webinar and on the Engage platform.

“Our lives have changed," Rogers said. “We shelter-in-place. College and university campuses are essentially shut down. Faculty have moved their courses online. Many colleges and universities are struggling financially, as are Americans generally. Millions have lost their jobs. Even our democracy is threatened. Now is the perfect time to discuss the role of higher education in strengthening our commitment to civic and community engagement."

Some states have postponed election primaries, while individuals just turning 18 or who have moved are having trouble registering to vote. Others wonder if there will be elections in November and, if so, how will they occur?

“All of us have a role to play in ensuring that our students and entire campus communities are actively participating in initiatives to strengthen our democracy and heighten civic engagement," Flores said. “Our purpose in this webinar and in this new Community of Practice is to offer a place for peer-to-peer discussions about what different campuses are doing to engage students, not just in learning, but in life, citizenship, and democracy."

Both in the webinar and subsequent Community of Practice, discussions will center on how to continue higher education's work for democracy, even in the face of COVID-19.

For example, some college campuses have come together around three basic principles:

  • Developing civic preparation is a core element of the mission of American higher education.

  • Participating in American political life helps students learn from a diversity of ideas and people while developing skills for lifelong and active citizenship.

  • Empowering students and teachers to engage with the complex issues facing our country is a crucial facet of higher education's contributions to the common good.

Work also has been done in this area with support from the Kettering Foundation and its initiative on public deliberation. Alger, Flores, and Rogers also were among the contributors to a book on Democracy, Civic Engagement, and Citizenship in Higher Education.   

Other examples:

  • Student groups such as the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition continue to organize student voter registration efforts, Get-Out-The-Vote, and getting youth engaged with Census2020 through virtual Coalition meetings. (See Alger's article on what your campus can do to promote the Census here and his podcast).

  • The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is providing resources to institutions to help register and educate students as voters.

  • The National Civic League is hosting a virtual meeting, “Promising/Practices: Social Distancing Meetings Public Engagement."

  • Students and nonprofits are hosting virtual public deliberation to address important problems in their communities.

  • This month Points of Light recognizes volunteers with Global Volunteer Month and will hosts its annual meeting as an online digital community. Similarly, Campus Compact20 will be held as a virtual conference. 

For more information and to register for the ACE Engage May 21 webinar, click here.