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Central College’s Democracy Rocks! Series: Speaking Up, Speaking Out

Featured: Central College’s Democracy Rocks! Series: Speaking Up, Speaking Out

March 27, 2018

Perhaps at no time in recent history has speaking up and speaking out been more encouraged and encouraging among students.

What does it mean to be part of the political process  . . . to be an engaged citizen . . . to understand the views of your political opposites . . . to engage in difficult dialogue and still be respectful and respected?

Central College’s Democracy Rocks! program addresses these timely life lessons throughout the academic year. Sponsored by Central College Student Development, the year-long events series focuses on ways for students to engage in and improve civic dialogue.

During the 2017-18 academic year, Democracy Rocks! has sponsored:

  • Student and faculty participation in the “March for Our Lives” event in Des Moines on March 24, 2018. Several Central students joined at least 3,000 Iowans on the snowy capitol lawn in a nationwide protest of gun violence.
  • A presentation by Rachel Caulfield, associate professor of political science at Drake University, about civil dialogue on campus and the language of threat in “Suckerpunched and Scared: How Do We Talk About Political Disagreement and Why Does It Matter?”
  • A March campus visit by Bri Dennison, district representative for Congressman Dave Loebsack, who met with students and faculty from political science and communication studies classes.
  • A day at a Pella coffeeshop to meet Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, a 2006 Central College graduate.
  • A webinar on the “Campus Election Engagement Project” with Nancy Thomas from the College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.
  • A presentation on “Talking Across the Aisle,” by Kyle McCord, professor of English at Drake University.
  • A discussion with New York Times contributor Bob Leonard on “How Rural America Voted” in the 2016 election cycle.
  • A trip to attend the Women’s March in Des Moines on Jan. 20, 2018.
  • A trip to the University of Iowa campus to hear from Gold Star parents Khizr Muazzan and Ghazala Khan.
  • An annual program to celebrate Constitution Day.

Assistant Dean of Students T.Todd Masman, who organizes Democracy Rocks!, believes that the campus events are “more important than ever in an era where faculty members may be apprehensive about sharing their personal politics and views in the classroom and, likewise, students may fear grades being affected.” Some Central faculty require event attendance for class.

“Since the Trump election, we’ve definitely seen a student uptick in partisan politics with more students joining both College Democrats and College Republicans,” Masman says. “It’s encouraging for students who lead partisan groups to see there are more people interested in talking and debating issues.

“I hope Democracy Rocks! is giving permission to students to have difficult conversations in a safe space and to see the value of being politically engaged,” he says.

Central likes to use a World Café model to discuss social justice issues in addition to the scheduled events. During a World Café, participants discuss different current events, economics and injustices for 12-15 minutes and then change tables to engage in a different topic.

“It’s current event exploration on a ‘speed dating’ model,” Masman says. “Students love it because at these events, you can have the debate and still walk out friends.”

Democracy Rocks! also partners with Central’s Center for Community Based Learning and Iowa Campus Compact to invite political candidates to campus and to enable students to participate in caucuses and election night reporting. Democracy Rocks! also connects with the local Red Rock Social Justice Advocates, which holds legislative meetings and conversations.

Central College is a private, residential four-year liberal arts college known for its academic rigor and strength in global experiential learning, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), sustainability education, athletics success and tradition, and leadership and service, located in Pella, Iowa. More information is available at www.central.edu.

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