By Anna Szalay and Melissa Baker-Boosamra
In the wake of the 2016 Election, students and staff at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) found there was an increased interest in learning about public issues and the democratic process. The GVSU Student Senate, Community Service Learning Center (CSLC), Division of Inclusion and Equity, and a variety of other groups hosted a series of town hall meetings after the election. Through this series, we realized there were many questions related to the meaning and practice of democracy being asked by our campus community. We saw these questions as an opportunity! The Community Service Learning Center introduced Democracy (DEM) 101 in response to this campus interest, during winter 2017.
Democracy 101 is a series of lectures, panel discussions and workshops that focus on themes of democratic values, systems, and structures. This space acts in the way a public square does, as a place for the community together and engage in a productive dialogue about key issues. It also serves as a way to discuss the meaning of democracy and how powerful our voices can be. Each semester, we reach out to a broad range of faculty, staff, students and community members with an invitation to speak or facilitate a dialogue at DEM 101 events. Previous topics have ranged from how to get involved in local politics, to human rights and the promise of democracy, to the role of media in a democracy.
During the 2018 fall semester, DEM 101 will prepare our campus community for the upcoming midterm election through offering nonpartisan educational sessions designed to explore ballot initiatives. We will kick off the fall series with a screening and discussion of “American Creed,” a PBS documentary exploring our shared American values and what happens when those values come in to question. In other sessions, local elections officials will host a First Time Voter Workshop and lead a conversation on election security. Finally, we will host a panel of GVSU alumni and current students who serve in public office to share their experience as elected officials. Through DEM 101, we aim to inspire students to think about their rights and responsibilities as members of a democratic society and the actions we can take to create the world we want!
Civil discourse and dialogue are fundamental to the health and vibrancy of GVSU’s campus community and to our democratic society. Through listening to one another and seeking to understand each other’s experiences and positions, we can build empathy, goodwill and a culture of engagement. Our mission at GVSU is to “educate students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies.” Through DEM 101, we aim to empower students to do just that!
Anna Szalay is a student leader, Democracy Fellow and travel enthusiast at Grand Valley State University. She is passionate about increasing civic engagement at her university and inspiring fellow students to use their voice. In the future Anna plans to teach English abroad then return to the United States and work for a nonprofit that promotes leadership and youth empowerment.
Melissa Baker-Boosamra serves as the Associate Director of Student Life for Civic Engagement and Assessment at Grand Valley State University. She is excited to wake up and come to work every day, to work in partnership with student leaders and campus partners, to build a campus culture of civic and democratic engagement at GVSU!