As part of a larger initiative supporting participation in the political process and to create a more informed student body, campus leaders at Kirkwood Community College encourage the importance of civic engagement as an integral part of the student educational experience and a channel for creating dialog to further community conversations.
In doing so, the Kirkwood Civic Engagement Team is working collaboratively with Student Life to promote nonpartisan voter education through a series of informative platforms raising awareness on issues such as the Republican and Democratic Caucus procedures as well as the importance of understanding the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the college hosted a Mock Caucus during the 2020 presidential election and has also held a National Voter Registration week.
In 2020, the college earned the highest voter registration and voter turnout for 2-year colleges in Iowa as the result of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge – a platform aimed at encouraging higher-ed institutions to support civic and democratic engagement as a distinct part of a student’s educational trajectory and to “create a more informed citizenry.”
“It is important for students to understand that their voice matters and being informed on candidates and issues helps elect policymakers that will work for them,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology Finn Kolsrud.
“Engaging our students in campus conversations gives them the opportunity to become educated and empowered to make choices for our community,” Kolsrud added.
According to a report titled “How Colleges Ignite Engagement” from the Chronicle of Higher Education, while service-learning through volunteerism has typically served as the primary source of providing students with real-world experiences and a sense of connectedness to their community, should colleges do more to create “more socially and politically aware students?” The study found that colleges are indeed doing more to create more civically minded students, although nearly 6 in 10 students participate in some form of service-based learning.
As part of this effort, some colleges have added more civic content to their courses. Moreover, others have taken larger steps by creating civic engagement centers and programs.
On this front, Kirkwood has continued deliberative dialogues on a range of pressing issues in the community, Kolsrud said. In the fall of 2021, the college held a conversation on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion among faculty, students, staff and community members.
Also forthcoming on both the main campus in Cedar Rapids as well as the Iowa City campus is a dialog on safeguarding voting in the community scheduled on April 19.
Kolsrud stated that in addition to voter education efforts, Kirkwood is trying to encourage community conversations since their students are leaders of tomorrow.