First Language Users

Over the past two weeks I represented Service Year Alliance at two of Campus Compact’s Civic Action Planning Institutes. One of the best parts of my job is visiting different campuses. The University of Missouri-St. Louis and the University of San Diego hosted us and while in St. Louis I took the time to visit St. Louis University and Washington University-St. Louis.

St. Louis University

I met individuals from all across the mid-west and the west cost, and a few folks who travelled longer distances from Virginia and Hawaii. Each participating campus brought a team to the institute, primarily made of a senior academic officer and a faculty or staff member directly responsible for civic learning and engagement. I also had the opportunity to present on how service can foster long-term democratic engagement in our students. This comes at a critical time when many of our young people feel disenfranchised by the current political environment. We need more ideas on how to keep students engaged and in particular, what we’ll do after the election.

Through my work in Virginia and in conversations I’ve had during Campus Compact gatherings, there’s a central theme, one that our “Compact Prez” introduced – first language users and second language users when it comes to our work. Unlike second language users, first language users can speak organically about community and civic engagement. It comes from a place of experience and a desire to engage our community partners as co-educators. They utilize an asset-based approach.

As individuals trying to advance this work, we want our presidents and provosts to be first language users. I’m lucky to be surrounded by several first language users. In fact, I’ve said numerous times that I didn’t realize college presidents could speak about our work in the way that they do. They are generous with their time, their contacts, their expertise, and they engage with the community both on campus and off.

Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of being surrounded by and reporting to such individuals and it makes our jobs that much harder. Regardless, we need clear learning outcomes, assessment measures that accurately tell the story of impact, and opportunities to speak to one another. When we do have first language users, we need to share our fortune with others. Find opportunities to recognize their contributions and to speak to second language users. I’ll bet they’ll take you up on as many offers as they can. This is how we change the culture and recommit to the public purposes of higher ed. And if that is something you’re passionate about, head on over to Campus Compact and make sure your president or chancellor has signed the 30th Anniversary Action Statement.

University of San Diego

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