Oh wow! There are so many different definitions of civic engagement, it’s hard to say. I think I would define it as something like this: involvement in the life of your community, city, state or country in an informed way that positively impacts the common good.
I believe civic engagement is important, particularly in education, for a variety of reasons. We are preparing future citizens who will lead our country in all areas and at all levels. You can’t serve people (whether in the public or private sphere) if you are not connected to them in some way. Also, civic engagement is directly and deeply rooted in democracy. Without it, democracy cannot exist or survive. This is more important than ever now with the political climate we are living through.
Educational institutions are spaces that we can most closely emulate democracy and the democratic process. This doesn’t happen in any other type of business or industry. Engagement and participation within or outside the campus is vital to keeping democracy and its promises alive and real and tangible. Without that, we would lose the potential of democracy.
I think that in some ways, social media has become a major barrier to civic engagement. While it is a great organizing tool and very powerful and useful in that sense, it is also a deterrent to people developing more meaningful relationships in person. Organizing and participating was very different in the time before social media. Some things have improved greatly, like the amount of time spent organizing and reaching out to groups and individuals. But we have at the same time lost that in-person connection with people with whom we share different spaces such as work, school, etc. Now we are Posting and Replying instead of talking with each other in person.
Almost everything the Multicultural & Community Engagement Center does is connected to civic or community engagement.
The main way that it is done in curricular activities is through service learning. We assist faculty in adding a service component to their courses and then we follow up with placement, tracking, and reporting of all hours. The teacher is responsible for the class pedagogical issues such as reflection and connection to course work.
Some students come to us because they want to volunteer for various reasons. We always discuss the importance of contributing to the community and what that means for the student as well as the community served.
Our other programs such as Students Talk About Race, Estudiantes Unidos (a Latinx leadership program), and SPARK Peer Mentoring all have service components for participants either on or off campus.
Over the last 30-50 years, involvement in community activities has dramatically decreased, according to various sources. For example, the book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, tackled this issue. The way people engage has changed but the issues we face have not. In fact, some issues, such as racism, sexism, oppression and discrimination, have recently become more heightened in our daily lives.
I think civic engagement is important because it provides a reality of what exists instead of having the individual reliant on other sources (like media) about how our society and individuals within that society function. Media can be manipulated, and often is, to invoke a certain reaction in the viewer. Live interaction with others and the world is a personal experience that shapes the individual’s reality. S/he is a participant instead of a passive viewer of “reality.”
Additionally, John Dewey believed that learning is a social experience and the sociological ways of learning are just as important as the psychological ones. Without one or the other, no deep learning can take place. Our students can definitely learn psychologically (cognitively) but they also need the social interaction which supports their psychological learning.
I’d love to spread the word that no matter how you want to implement civic engagement, we are here as a support system. As mentioned above, we help students find places they can complete their service off campus, we track their hours, and we report hours to faculty and also provide a certificate of completion for students so they have a record of their service. It’s really easy and the MCEC is here to help.