A year for democracy in action

 Dear Friends,
It’s an invigorating time for active citizens!  We’re coming off a year of democracy in action – from Tea Party protests and the Occupy movement here at home to Arab Spring and related developments oversees. And we’re starting a year highlighting American democracy – with the first caucus of the 2012 presidential election happening today, we’re looking forward to a year of rigorous debate on the issues and thoughtful discussion on who is left out of our civil society.

Throughout the fall, the campus was abuzz with students participating in and reflecting on the Occupy movement. I’ve been particularly impressed to see our students applying what they’ve learned about developing effective strategies and implementing sustainable solutions.  Early in the fall, on a day when students from other universities were participating in a protest march in downtown Boston, the newly formed Tufts Occupy group chose to spend their day engaging and educating their peers – discussing the root cause of economic disparities and brainstorming interventions.

As we launch into the coming year, I’m looking forward to more thoughtful debate as students engage around the presidential election – registering new voters and pushing for voter turnout. I am particularly excited to see how the civic events and activities of the past year will carry into the coming year and continue to shape our world and our campus community.

Just a few weeks ago, I traveled to Libya with Peter Walker, Director of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts. We were invited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Tripoli, Libya to visit with the leadership of Tripoli University.

As you might imagine, Libya is still in the very early days of its post-revolution state, and nearly every major institution has new leadership rethinking the purpose and operations of their organization. UNDP is working with the National Transitional Council (NTC) to examine rebuilding – with a particular focus on building civic capacity – something which had been effectively eliminated over the last 40 years under the Qaddafi regime.

Home to over 250,000 young Libyans – young people who were the primary drivers of the revolution – universities are strategic resources for civic development.  With an estimated 120,000 students and between 7,000-10,000 faculty, Tripoli University is seeking to lead this process.  My visit to Tripoli University was to share the unique Tisch College approach of infusing active citizenship education throughout the university.  The fact that Tufts embraces this as a core value, and that we have developed strategies for engaging social scientists, humanists, natural scientists, engineers, and health professionals was of central interest.

Peter Walker and I are now engaging many other Tufts faculty to write brief concept papers for Tripoli University and UNDP consideration on discrete follow-up steps.  Meeting with the president and key administrators from Tripoli University, I was inspired by their courage, receptivity and commitment and I look forward to continuing this critical global work in the coming year.

Domestically, I’ll be closely watching the reports coming out of our Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Tomorrow, you will hear from them how many young Iowans participated in today’s caucus.  Throughout the year, they’ll be the nation’s leading resource for tracking changes to youth turnout during the primaries and general election.

Although youth voter turnout is certainly an indicator of our national civic health, the overall voting rate conceals enormous disparities between the voters and the non-voters. Nearly half of all young people, 18-29, have no college experience.  These “non-college youth” often don’t have access to the same resources and opportunities as their civic peers. They vote, volunteer, belong to groups, and consume news, and even join unions at much lower rates than their peers who have at least attended college for a semester or two. This discrepancy has a tremendous, self-perpetuating impact on our society.

CIRCLE is dedicated to understanding and advocating for the civic engagement of all young people, and in the coming year you’ll hear more from them on this important demographic group.

It certainly is an exciting time and I look forward to another engaging year of partnership, dialogue and action.

Here’s to 2012,

Nancy E. Wilson
Dean ad interim

Originally published January 2012