Tools for supporting civic engagement during election seasons and beyond

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Civic engagement is contributing and working to make a difference in the public (or civic) life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and commitment to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community and solving public problems, through both political and non-political processes. Civic engagement is undergirded by constructs of collective action and social responsibility (Ehrlich, 2000).

Civic engagement not only benefits our communities, but has positive benefits for individual well-being, reducing isolation and creating connections with people and institutions beyond ourselves. Helping students draw connections between policy or legislation and course content, disciplinary questions or field-related priorities is critical for educating students about the role we all play in shaping the communities we live in, not only while at University of Michigan but also in the future.  While it can be challenging to know where, or even if, to begin making these connections more explicit in your courses, we can support your efforts. We also offer simple strategies to encourage students to vote

Contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions or request a consultation if you would like us to work with you to prepare your students for civic and community engagement.   

Encouraging students to engage in the democratic process is a non-partisan activity.  

Resources to promote discussion, reflection and connections:  

Whether your course content is directly related to civic engagement or not, sharing how your discipline affects, interacts with, and shapes broader social systems significantly impacts students’ ability to understand and participate in civic life. Politics is about how we make collective agreements about allocating resources, therefore politics is inherent in all disciplines and fields. The same critical skills that help your students critically evaluate the platforms of candidates and elected leaders can help them de-code the politics of your discipline. We offer the following questions to help your students better understand and make sense of this connection.  

  • How is academic knowledge produced in your field or discipline? Who is included in this knowledge production and who is left out? 
  • What examples can you share of how broader economic, political, health, educational and social systems impact your discipline or field?
  • What forms of data and analysis are considered legitimate in your field and why?
  • How has your field changed over time? What examples can you offer of current debates or competing schools of thought?
  • How is your discipline or field affected by local, state or federal legislative policies or judicial decisions? 
  • How has your discipline or field informed local, state or federal legislative policies or judicial decisions? 
  • How might my discipline be impacted by policy decisions as a result of the election?
  • How can you help students identify ways to contribute to these processes? 

These questions offer a starting point to make visible the decision-making mechanisms of your field. Perhaps more importantly, they allow students to consider ways they can contribute to or influence these mechanisms. 

Across disciplines, every course is somehow implicated in election issues. From STEM courses to the performing arts, policy issues shape the topics we teach and influence how our respective fields approach knowledge production, research priorities, and more. By reflecting on the connections between the election and your course, you can better help students engage with the data and skills they need to weigh the issues raised by the election.

  • How are the topics covered in my course impacted by the policy and/or funding issues raised by this election?
  • Which topics within my course might require special attention in light of the election?
  • How might the candidate platforms be a resource for teaching and learning these topics?
  • What are the diverse perspectives and voices that characterize my field related to these topics, and how do I maintain some balance in presenting them?

These resources offer concrete strategies and tools:

  • The Pathways to Civic Engagement & Community Change offer students multiple (and overlapping) ways to contribute to a more just and inclusive democratic society. Our companion Guide for Academic Partners offers strategies and resources that support each of the pathways: 
    • Policy & Governance
    • Community Organizing & Activities
    • Direct Service
    • Community-Engaged Learning & Research
    • Philanthropy
    • Social Entrepreneurship
  • We have curated a number of civic learning activities that allow students across disciplines to practice democratic processes so they can develop democratic habits and engage with socially relevant topics. We offer considerations for adapting the exercises to both in-person and virtual classroom contexts.

Being able to support all students to engage fully in discussions can be challenging, but it is a critical responsibility of a civically-engaged campus. We offer this step-by-step planning guide as one template for planning election-related discussions in the classroom. 

You can work with colleagues and others to engage more deeply in civic issues:  

  • Hold a meeting with other faculty to strategize ways to support students' learning around civic engagement 
  • Host a panel with faculty or other experts to talk about specific issues
  • Bring in a local representative who is legislating about policies relevant to your field or discipline 
  • Check-in with your professional or disciplinary associations to get ideas for connecting your discipline with public policy
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