At Syracuse University, there is a focused effort to embody democratic education through teaching, research, and engaged praxis. The rhetoric of publicly engaged scholarship is communicated through our vision, Scholarship in Action, and we purposefully enact the civic mission of higher education through hiringand admission practices, funded initiatives and within the scope of graduate education and research. Graduate education is an important site for the articulation and development of higher education’s role in participatory democracy because graduate students are the next generation of university professorate, administrators, and community partners.
Last October, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article titled, Syracuse’ Slide where, among other things, Syracuse University’s commitment to publicly engaged scholarship was criticized as playing a role in lowering standards and reducing the national prestige of our university. This article mobilized graduate students from across campus, galvanizing us to speak back, across disciplinary boundaries, to the unfair depiction of our commitment to the university as a public good. The article deepened our level of solidarity as graduate students, stimulating an urgency about declaring the value of publicly engaged scholarship. Far from a slide, partnering with community stakeholders for the robust and dynamic production of knowledge is indicative of Syracuse’s Rise.
In my role as director for Imagining America: Artist and Scholars in Public Life’s Central New York, Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE), I e-mailed a copy of the article to PAGE members and suggested we write a collective letter to the editor. The response was overwhelming. Eighty-seven people identifying as “Syracuse’s Engaged Grads” answered the call offering to either help draft or sign the letter. The most remarkable feature of this response was the refusal of members of the Syracuse University graduate community to allow our University’s leadership in the new epistemology of reciprocal knowledge making to be mislabeled as anything but the most rigorous of scholarship. Using our own democratic practices as the foundation of our letter, we argued that:
• The building of knowledge is inseparable from practice;
• The inclusion of traditionally underrepresented students generates increased scholarly rigor by expanding perspectives;
• The dichotomous thinking that separates university and community knowledge is anachronistic;
• Community members are our partners and lived space is our laboratory and
• Engaged practice informs collective understandings and helps to create coalitions for civic action.
I am only one of the people who contributed to Syracuse’s Rise; it was a truly organic collaborative response to a gross mischaracterization facilitated by a far-reaching vehicle. I am proud to be a graduate student at an institution where our leadership, our professorate, and our student body are working to expand the paradigm of knowledge making to center the public good. When we consider our democracy in the United States today, there is no space for arguing if the University should engaged with the public; the time has passed for this question. Rather, it is for us, graduate students, to explore and develop new ways that our learning can cross disciplines and, quite literally, cross the street to respond to the problems and questions of the communities we rise up in. We believe that the strongest, richest, and most impactful knowledge making requires an honored place along the
continuum of scholarship for the acknowledgement of diverse scholarly forms and deep engagement.
A. Wendy Nastasi is a third year doctoral student in the Cultural Foundations of EducationDepartment in the School of Education at Syracuse University. Wendy is director of ImagingAmerica’s CNY PAGE program, and a member of IA’s Publicly Engaged Scholars study researchteam. As an instructor for SU’s Intergroup Dialogue Program, Wendy co-facilitates SOC/WGS 230:Intergroup Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity. Wendy’s research engages youth participatory actionresearch (YPAR) as a praxis for mobilizing urban high school students’ civic agency while centering youth’s voices and epistemic contributions. You can contact Wendy at either firstname.lastname@example.org or at cnypage.syr.edu.
By Scott Warren and Daniel Millenson, Generation Citizen
Over the past several years, addressing educational inequity has become all the rage for recent college graduates, with applications to organizations like Teach For America and City Year skyrocketing. Often dubbed the “Civil Rights Movement of our time,” thousands of college graduates have dedicated themselves to closing the academic achievement gap to help guarantee equality of opportunity for all.
College- and career-readiness, and the improved academic skills they demand, are worthy, but incomplete goals. Ultimately, solutions to America’s most intractable problems must come from the best political resolution mechanism we know: the democratic process. Diplomas and jobs are not enough; we must mold engaged and informed citizens who will take up those challenges. Generation Citizen, an organization that is attempting to empower under-represented youth to be active participants in the democratic process, is predicated on the idea that every young person needs the knowledge and skills to effect change in their community. And the best way to learn civics is by doing civics – what we call “action civics.”
College students are absolutely vital to this equation. With an established record of solid academic achievement and leadership skills, college students are ideal leaders and mentors for secondary students, and can help them learn about and navigate the democratic process to take effective action on issues they care about.
Even more importantly, secondary students, in turn, can help collegians transcend the town-gown divide and develop an understanding of their communities outside the confines of the ivory tower. At a school like Brown University, students rarely get off of “College Hill”, not even knowing that their ID provides free local bus passes. This is a problem.
Hence Generation Citizen’s model, in which top-notch college volunteers work in low-income secondary classrooms for a semester to help students take action on an issue they care about, giving them a foundation for effecting community change. College students learn about the problems in the community through talking to the people most affected by the local politics.
Waiting for graduation to enlist college students in social justice careers is too late; majors and often career paths have already been decided. For our college volunteers, the experience is life-changing, and they frequently change their majors or career paths after participating in the program. Ensuring underrepresented youth have the knowledge and skills to make their voices heard – voices amplified by committed college volunteers – can help make our democracy truly representative.
Scott Warren is the Executive Director of Generation Citizen, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering underrepresented youth to be active participants in the democratic process. He is a current recipient of an Echoing Green Fellowship, and was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship. Scott graduated from Brown University with a degree in International Relations. In 2002, Scott served as an observer in the first truly democratic elections in Kenya’s history, where he began to recognize the transformative potential of democracy. During college, Scott served as the National Student Director of STAND, a national student anti-genocide coalition. Scott also helped lead successful campaigns to divest Brown University, the City of Providence, and the State of Rhode Island from companies conducting business in Sudan. Scott founded Generation Citizen his senior year at Brown with the aim of helping to create an authentic democratic experience for all youth across the country, keeping in mind the transformative power he first witnessed in Kenya.
Daniel Millenson is the managing director of Generation Citizen. Daniel spent the last two years as a Teach For America corps member in the Mississippi Delta, where he taught 11th and 12th grade English in one of the poorest counties in the state. Daniel graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in philosophy and history and was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship. While an undergraduate at Brandeis University, Daniel was the co-founder and national advocacy director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force (SDTF), a national effort to apply economic pressure on Sudan to halt the genocide in Darfur. Starting in 2005, SDTF pushed universities and public pension funds to divest their portfolios of companies engaged in problematic business operations in Sudan, ultimately getting divestment policies adopted by over 60 universities, 24 states, and the federal government.
By Lindsey Ardrey
Last year as an Americorps VISTA volunteer I was presented with the opportunity to coordinate a program within Western Kentucky University’s Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility that my supervisor described as having the potential to change our youths’ lives. A program that would allow the university students I would lead, and myself, to marry our life’s passion and ambition for creating dynamic sustainable change within our communities to our academic pursuits. After leaving a graduate program that left me yearning for fulfillment and forced me to adjust my life and career goals, I was more than pleased to accept the offer. Quickly, I became well versed in Public Achievement’s core concepts of democracy, diversity, and freedom. Its will to empower youth and create cultural change within our communities—a program that encouraged youth to become civic co-creators of their own worlds.
In Spring 2011, we partnered with two schools within the Bowling Green Independent School District to launch a pilot program. Right away, Public Achievement’s uniqueness stood out. Within the first several meetings, group members of two third grade groups and one tenth grade group, each composed of six students, were asked by their university student coaches what they cared about. For many of them, this was the first time they had been asked about their interests. As the semester advanced, each group embarked on their own public work project. One on playground litter, another for animal rights and cruelty, and the other to end poverty in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Third grade students began identifying their own leadership and public speaking skills after speaking with a veterinarian and appearing on their school news. And our high school students saw their most significant project development when they depended on themselves rather than their coaches to get work done. Work to build a viable and sustainable mentoring program within an elementary school represented by lower socioeconomic status students.
As coordinator, I act as the coaches’ coach. Assisting our university coaches to become vehicles for cultural change and youth empowerment, which also means searching for my own power within. And now as a coach for a third grade group along with my coordinating responsibilities, I am constantly challenged to successfully engage students often overlooked in the classroom. We often say that public work is hard work. Exhausting work to be exact. But I have found nothing more satisfying than knowing that I had a hand in youth achieving their goals and proving others wrong. Proving that change agents have no minimal age requirement. Raising a generation immune to collective passivity and building producers rather than consumers of our democracy.
As a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky University’s Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility, Lindsey Ardrey coordinates the Public Achievement program. She currently pursues a Master of Arts degree in the Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities program with an emphasis in the Black community.