Mason’s Democracy Project Engages Students in the Political Process

Posted: March 6, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

With the success and notoriety of Sen. Barack Obama’s rally at Mason on Feb. 2, many hope the enthusiasm and national media exposure will translate into greater pre-presidential election activities on the Mason campuses.

A message of engagement is the cornerstone of the American Democracy Project at Mason, a nonpartisan initiative sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the New York Times.

Campus coordinator Marilyn Mobley, associate provost for educational programs, articulates the project’s mission: “Our goal is to encourage faculty to design and teach courses that promote civic engagement and to encourage students, regardless of their major, to participate in all the university has to offer to help them understand civic engagement as a requirement for democracy to work well.”

Across the country, more than 200 colleges and universities participate in the American Democracy Project. At Mason, Mobley says the Democracy Project “seeks to coordinate civic engagement initiatives that are already in place and to foster the development of new initiatives that will increase dialogue about citizenship and participation in the democratic process by students, faculty, staff and the community at large.”

Since its inception at Mason in 2003, the Democracy Project has welcomed lecturers from across the country. In the fall of 2004, the Democracy Project inaugurated its “Dialogue on Democracy” series with Cornel West of Princeton University, author of “Democracy Matters.” West drew a full house when he spoke at the Center for the Arts.

Other “Dialogue on Democracy” events have included post-election dialogues for the 2004 presidential campaign with Mason professors Hugh Heclo, Hugh Sockett, Toni Travis and Roger Wilkins.

A dialogue on religious diversity moderated by Government and Public Affairs Professor Claire Snyder was held. And a special Constitution Day event on “Who Was George Mason?” featured a discussion between University Counsel Thomas Moncure and Public and International Affairs Department Chair Robert Dudley.

Other Democracy Project initiatives have included:

  • Conducting a campus audit of civic engagement initiatives already integrated into the curriculum

  • Offering a set of special summer term seminars on civic engagement

  • Offering University 342, the university-wide general education synthesis course, “The George Mason Debates in Current Affairs,” for the first time in 2004 with professor David Kuebrich, who focused on politics and the media

  • Publicizing voter registration drives and sponsoring various essay contests on citizenship and free speech.

In the weeks and months to come, the Democracy Project will continue to seek ways to support student-led initiatives that foster greater student participation and involvement in the democratic process, says Mobley.

Although the most recent widely-publicized political event featured a rising star in the Democratic Party, Mobley stresses that bipartisanship is key to the Democracy Project’s success.

“Our goal is not to tell students who to vote for or what issues to care about, but to encourage them to be educated citizens who understand that their vote counts and that their participation makes a difference.”

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