By Dantrell Cotton
Imagine a place full of thriving crops and vegetation, a place where residents grew grains and tended livestock. If I told you this place was Chicago, would you believe me? With many skyscrapers, taxis, and residents, I wouldn’t have expected you to say yes.
As a child, I never knew about agriculture, sustainability and the importance of democracy. If you were to ask me what agriculture was, my response would have been “farming.” It wasn’t until I attended high school that I learned how agriculture was connected to food, medicine, education; it is connected to everything.
I had the distinct privilege to attend the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS), which is one of the most successful schools dedicated to teaching urban agriculture. CHSAS teaches an array of hands-on agricultural classes, and provides job shadow and internship opportunities with major agricultural companies such as Monsanto, Kraft, and Quaker-PepsiCo. The school is designed around an ‘inclusive principle’ in which students are encouraged to apply their agricultural knowledge outside the class and in the community. For example, each year the school mulches the local park, has an agricultural tourism program, and is involved with the World Food Prize Organization, which introduces students to global issues on sustainable development. I found this integrated use of course material more applicable and pertinent, and it increased my desire to become active at school and in the community – a perfect example of participation, involvement, and empowerment.
Outside of the classroom, I was an active member and officer in the Chicago Ag Sciences chapter of the National FFA Organization. FFA is a student-led organization which seeks to develop leadership, personal growth, and career success among its members. I have exemplified development in these areas. As president, I was responsible for implementing numerous events and programs, a highlight which was a Hunger Banquet that demonstrated the effects of hunger and poverty around the world. Also, I regularly spoke to business, community, and educational leaders from the Chicago area about going green and sustainability. I graduated high school as valedictorian with many honors, including a full-tuition scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the nation’s top research institutions and a leader in sustainability.
Because of the exposure and knowledge gained at CHSAS, I want to exercise my citizenship by making a difference in my community. Thanks to a quality education and dedicated mentors, a fire has been ignited to do more as a college student, and to educate others on ways to become involved as a citizen.
I’m reminded every day that I must be the change that I want to see in the world. I’m learning the importance of putting my selfishness and fears aside to speak up on issues that affect me and my community.
If you think students’ participation in civic engagement is important to higher education and our democracy at large, we want to hear from you.
Please submit a brief blog ( 300-400 words, along with your photo, a brief bio and any relevant links or images you want to share). You can shape your post around the following question/s:
- Do you think it’s important for students to get involved in civic work on campus and in their communities at large?
- How can civic engagement benefit our democracy as a whole?
- What’s the biggest problem that needs solving where you are and how can students make a difference?
There is no right or wrong answer, we just want to hear from people like you and what you think about students’ participation in civic engagement and its’ impact on our society at large.
Our goal is to spread the word about the campaign and to show deep student interest ahead of January 11, 2012, when “For Democracy’s Future” will be launched at the White House.
It is critical that we can bring your voice to the White House and to the Department of Education to show that fixing our democracy is something that young people care deeply about, and have much to contribute to.
Please help us spread the word about this campaign with your community.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @ DemocracyU
By Yasmin Karimian
Each day as I pass Freedom Plaza, I see the tents of the occupiers still up. The dedication is inspiring and because of the closely proximity to my apartment, I am always curious and interested in the movement. Having just graduated college and as an avid user of Facebook, I pay particular attention to the Occupy Colleges movement.
According to occupycolleges.org, over 90 colleges have registered as having some sort of occupy movement on their campus. While I wholly support the message and concern of many students across the nation about rising tuition, the over privatization of education, and more graduates unable to find jobs, I question whether we are going about creating change in the most effective way.
Throughout my four years at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I focused on methods of community organizing in order to revive the student government and create partnerships between the administration and the students. While it took much time and energy, the change seems to have been sustained in the community. Occupy Colleges writes about what Gandhi would do in times like these. The article on the front page of their website points to Gandhi’s persistent efforts to reduce division between two groups, the social responsibility that Gandhi constantly reminded his followers we each have, and his encouragement of “constructive work,” not mere protest. Gandhi was not the only leader who used these methods. The Civil Rights movement in large part also used community organizing techniques.
It may be time for us to reevaluate the methods we are using. If we keep it as us against them, nothing will change. We should build relationships with our administrators, who in fact have significant political power in government. As long as we continue protesting and demonstrating, we will not be able to create the ties necessary to produce change. It does not take more than a few bright minds to bring about change. What if we put our minds together and came up with solutions to the problems of our economy? Is our energy and intelligence really being spent in the most effective way as we spend our time in tents? It seems as though the Occupy movement has caught the attention of many and has many supporters. And with this attention and support, we have power. We need to stop demanding for something to change and actually help bring about the change.
Yasmin Karimian, past president of the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, led in a transformation of SGA to be a center for student public work and culture change.