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UHD Civic Leadership

UHD students and organizations recognized for civic leadership

By Sheryl Sellers

All too often and most unfortunately when something goes wrong, it is quickly communicated. So, when caught doing something right, one really needs to celebrate. The UHD student body was commended for just that - doing something right.

This occurred recently during a course taught by John Rountree, Ph.D.

Dr. Rountree invited a guest lecturer to his Communication and Public Decision-Making course. Guest speaker, David Brinker, Ph.D. is the Senior Researcher at the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University in Medford, MA. Tufts is a private research college, and IDHE studies student political learning and political engagement. They also run a study called National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) which is the quantitative measure of student turnout and electoral participation.

In greeting Dr. Rountree’s class, Dr. Brinker stated that he was happy to be a guest lecturer because Tufts refers to UHD as a “hero campus.”

Hearing those encouraging words, The Dateline reached out to Dr. Brinker to learn more about Tufts’ knowledge of and association with UHD, and how our campus got on the radar of a university located in Massachusetts. To begin, Dr. Brinker explained that IDHE is involved in a line of research that they call “Politics 365.”

“The contention [of Politics 365] is that political learning and engagement and democratic citizenship are a year-round set of culture and norms and practices that can manifest on election day but that happen year-round. As a shop we are really interested in political learning and we see voting as an indication that students are invested enough in democracy to participate in it.”

As part of their research, Nancy Thomas, Ph.D., Director of IDHE, visited UHD a few years ago.

The visit took place the day following an election. One of the things that impressed the IDHE team was that UHD was holding registration efforts that day – the day after an election. Dr. Thomas even remembered that the students were conscientious about the design of the tables and where they were situated to intercept students.

“One of the things that we were impressed about is that they were doing, at least when we visited, they were doing registration the day after the election. That’s a very good sign and it’s something we encourage. If the campus does that, we take that as a sign that students there don’t see politics as a run up to an election and vote moment, then run up to an election and vote moment. Instead they see it as a habit and practice.”

Engaging with Dr. Rountree’s communication class, Dr. Brinker mentioned his colleagues excitement when he told them he was attending a Zoom lecture with a UHD class.

“That was really a neat moment. I mentioned that I was going to be guest lecturing for the class and almost immediately our director, Dr. Thomas, said, ‘I just love I just love that campus!’”

Thomas mentioned a couple of specific reasons as to why she loves our UHD campus. One of these is the Center for Public Deliberation. Tufts has relationships with some of the scholars there.

“What [Thomas] really remembered and wanted to talk about was stories from when she visited and what she learned about UHD students. She told this story that there was a candlelight vigil for Nelson Mandela and that it was entirely student organized and members of the media were invited and local politicians were invited and this was all essentially without the knowledge of the administration. What does that tell you about the students there, right? And it tells you that they just knew what needed to be done to come together in community as citizens to think about global politics in that case.”

Dr. Bradley also noted that Tufts became aware of a robust set of civic engagement training that the student government engages in that trickles down to club leadership. He credits this at least in part to UHD’s Center for Public Deliberation founded and directed by Windy Lawrence, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies at UHD. He emphasized that the Center has great programming and a reach through the campus in terms of learning democracy instead of merely learning for voting.

These initiatives alone are impressive to Tufts because it appears, as he puts it, “it becomes part of what’s in the water” at UHD.

“We think that institutions can foster that and can certainly obstruct that by, for example, being disagreeable to student input in leadership. But at some level it takes a motivated and engaged student body to create and sustain a culture of year-round politics and political engagement.”

Another example of UHD’s civic engagement that Tufts commended was the 2012 Walk2Vote, organized by the Student Government Association (SGA). UHD founded the Walk2Vote effort which is now taking place at other universities across the country.

Dr. Brinker applauds the students’ initiative, “There is a practice, a largely student-led practice, that has to do with accessing voting sites, a sanctioned event that involves students actually going to do the act of voting and feeling supported by the administration.” He praised the administration for promoting “political mobility as a core mission of higher education to prepare citizens to self-govern”.

Another facet at UHD that garnered Tuft’s attention was the diverse student population; and one that is active in both political activism and a sense of deliberation. They also often seek out campuses based on favorable voting rate patterns, campuses with a high political participation, and high levels of diversity. UHD certainly fits those criteria.

“Where diversity meets deliberation is good for democracy. Healthy democracy occurs where pluralism resides.”

Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reside geographically closer to Tufts, but their student populations are not as diverse as UHD’s.

Dr. Brinker noted that student bodies that are heavily weighted in female students or Black women have higher voting numbers because those demographics generally have higher voting populations. IDHE does not compare voting rates to voting rates among college campuses, because a school, for example that has a large female enrollment will most likely have a higher voting rate. In 2018, 50% of UHD students voted in the last election and the national average is only 39%.

“The fact that UHD is outperforming the national average by that much is even more impressive because it’s not happening simply by virtue of having a demographic that tends to vote.”

“It’s clear from the data that UHD does a good job of [voter] registration. But students have to vote. At UHD they do that. It’s crucial to actually go to the polls. It’s showing up on election day that UHD students have done such a wonderful job, historically and continuing into the 2020 election. We’re talking about people who understand what it means to be a citizen in their daily life and act accordingly.”

In what could be considered the dark days of 2020, UHD students, organizations, and administration deserve a pat on the back for placing citizenship education alongside career education. Go Gators.

Last updated 12/16/2020 7:29 AM