Champagne Hangover

Towson University catches the Civic Engagement bug

 

                By Victoria Karolenko

                Civic engagement is the “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern” as defined by the American Psychological Association. To DarcyAccardi, 27, Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs, “civic engagement is constructive and essential for students.”  Accardi’s ambition is for Towson University to have its own Civic Engagement Department.

In 2005, Towson University created a civic engagement task force and in 2006 hired Accardi to expand and nurture the program.  Accardi was left in charge to develop this growing program.  The civic engagement task force consists of a staff of four, Accardi, a graduate assistant, intern and vista person. This task force is responsible for originating civic engagement programs, inspiring students to engage and up keeping Freedom Square.   To focus their efforts the civic engagement task force follows the three divisions in civic engagement: environmental initiatives, political engagement and service learning.

The environmental initiatives concern out reach to students about environmental responsibility and green alternatives.  Theses programs stimulate talk involving students aware of environmental issues and promote “green” alternatives for Towson’s campus.  An environmental conference is held annually to raise awareness to faculty, staff and students on environmental issues, topics and solutions.  This year’s environmental conference was held this past Monday, April 18, 2011.  The theme was Sustainability: Reducing Our Carbon Paw Print 3RD Annual Environmental Conference.

The second division, political engagement is to encourage students to advocate and engage in politics.  This includes voter registration, political activism and newspaper talks.  One of the task forces major contributions to Towson University is the three types of newspapers dotting the campus; the Baltimore Sun, New York Times and USA Today.  To engage students in reading and analyzing the newspapers, the civic engagement task force holds New York Times talk lunches once a month to discuss current and sometimes controversial topics.  The next New York Times lunch is on April 23rd at 1pm in Susquehanna.  The object of these lunches is to promote students to articulate and process large civic battles.  Another political engagement program is the celebration of Constitution Week, this will include panels on constitutional issues, voter registration and students will also be able to take a bus down to Washington D.C.  Freedom Square, the civic engagement task forces greatest accomplishment, is another program created to help stimulate students in a political manner.

Service learning, the third tier of civic engagement is the application of what students learn in classes and applying that into real life situations.  The goal is to involve students in servicing their community, in hopes of learning of the community’s issues and to become invested in their community.   “Our hopes is that once students initiate in this program they envelope in the Tiger Pledge and carry the pledge on post-graduation,” said Accardi.

Freedom Square

            The American Democracy Project (ADP) includes all public colleges and universities; their entire focus is to get students civically engaged and to encourage students to participate in the community.   Political Science professor, Dr. James Roberts paired with Darcy Accardi and her civic engagement task force to bring one of the ADP’s successful ideas to Towson. “[Freedom Square] was based on a presentation by people from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).  They developed the model for Freedom Square and called it ‘Democracy Plaza.”  IUPUI’s “Democracy Plaza” was such a hit that several other universities quickly followed, one being our own Towson University.  Dr. Roberts and Accardi discussed using IUPUI’s Democracy Plaza idea for the space between the Lecture Hall and Hawkins Hall.

After discussing Freedom Square, one got the feeling of pure delight and promise beaming from Dr. Roberts; “Freedom Square is meant to be an attitude as much as a physical or cyber space.”  Dr. Roberts ambition is that Freedom Square generates ideas in Towson students, that academy is a place for the free exchange of ideas.   Freedom Square shares a physical and cyber space, these spaces are meant to encourage a public discourse on issues in the Towson University community.  The online site is a means to support the physical space.

 Civic engagements future

Although students initially do not connect with the words civic engagement, they are not opposed to it.  Students just need a little bit of encouragement to get involved in their community.   Community can mean everything from actual proximity to relationships with fellow students and professors.   Civic engagement is participating in community service, voting and community programs, enriching actions for one and surroundings.

       For the future, Accardi hopes to create a Civic Engagement Department, build a center and generate a full time staff.  With Civic Engagement Center,  “I [Accardi] would like a center that would provide space for people to come together, to create a synergy that could break down silos the negative silos of society.”

A full time staff and center is off in the distance, but is a positive and feasible goal to work towards.  In the mean time, Accardi and her civic engagement programs are already making a positive difference in the Towson University community.

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