In the current era of political vitriol, intolerance of diversity, misguided fear of the “other,” and civil unrest, higher education institutions must hold fast to the civic purpose of education and seek innovative ways to guide and support students to become “leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world.” We can no longer sit back and say that what we are doing in the realm of community-engaged endeavors is “good enough.” Rather, we must respond to the urgency of the social, political, and cultural context shifts that have developed over the past years.
At USF, we began this process of reflection and action in May 2016 when President Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. signed the Campus Compact pledge to recommit our campus to a public purpose. This pledge was the launch point for an 18-month data collection process, led by McCarthy Center staff to inform a Civic Action Plan for USF. The Civic Action Plan is meant to describe existing institutional programs and practices that align with the public purpose of higher education, and propose new directions for civic engagement initiatives.
The data collection process was illuminating and encouraging. We drew upon reports from national surveys including the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. More importantly, we convened constituents including students, staff, faculty, and community partners to provide qualitative data on their experiences of civic engagement opportunities at USF and their hopes for new initiatives. These diverse voices shaped important recommendations that are now being translated into action. The McCarthy Center is continuing to convene stakeholders, but now it is for the purpose of implementing collaborative civic endeavors. For example, during Orientation, our staff worked with Student Leadership and Engagement, and Student Housing and Residential Education to register all incoming USF students to vote! You can learn more about our call to action and forthcoming initiatives in our Civic Action Plan.