By ASHLEY UTZ
In May of 2018, a petition was sent out to UMW faculty, staff and students, which stated, “To encourage civic engagement on campus and in the broader Fredericksburg community, I support a Day on Democracy at the University of Mary Washington, which would entail – among other things – the cancellation of all classes to allow for involvement in our democratic process throughout the day.”
With a huge show of support, 625 members of the UMW community (548 students, 40 faculty, 7 staff, and 30 alums) signed the petition and set a chain of events in motion to bring the initiative to life. Now, after a formal resolution of support was issued by SGA, the proposal has made its way through the Academic Affairs Committee.
The next step in the process is a vote at University Faculty Council, which will be held on Mar. 27, 2019. If the proposal passes UFC it will be on-track for implementation by 2020 – possibly one of the most memorable federal elections our country will ever see. If UMW adopts the proposal by 2020, its community will be able to participate in civic engagement in a manner that is not usually possible at universities.
The future of American democracy is threatened daily by polarization and apathy. Lack of time to address these issues creates a cycle of democratic inactivity, especially for students. Participation in civic duties presents a challenge that cannot be tackled by reading textbooks or memorizing flashcards.
This challenge is easily swept underneath mountains of homework, and lost in the sea of due dates, leaving students without the resources they need to participate in one of the pillars of democracy – voting. Voting is for all of us, but we must invest in it – and UMW could be a trailblazer among institutions of higher education by committing to civic engagement in the long-term.
The Day on Democracy proposal, which is now a full-length report, aims to increase civic engagement among our community through a series of nonpartisan, election-based activities leading up to the Day on Democracy. On election day, classes would be cancelled to facilitate student involvement, both in election processes and with various community partners. For students who are unable to vote or do not wish to vote, alternative activities will be made available through non-profit organizations in the Fredericksburg community, as well as paid poll-working opportunities through the Fredericksburg registrar for a limited number of students.
Beyond the scope of civic engagement at its core, this proposal represents an opportunity for the University to rebrand around a civic identity. UMW can carve out a leadership position, making headlines as a small school with a huge voter turnout and a powerful commitment to upholding the values of American democracy in a way that liberal arts institutions often overlook. Providing students with a strong foundation in political processes and democratic activities and a diverse course portfolio will generate well-rounded students with skill sets and mindsets not found elsewhere.
This proposal also allows faculty and staff to get involved both on-campus and off-campus while simultaneously providing possible opportunities for special assignments or extra-credit related to voter engagement.
Interested students, faculty and staff can read a full-length report on the core ideals of the proposal, plans for implementation, anticipated timeline, and logistical information on the 2/27 UFC Agenda page, or at https://ufc.umw.edu/files/2019/02/Day-on-Democracy.pdf.
UMW has a diverse student body, encompassing a multitude of beliefs and values. With our unique campus dynamic, we have the potential to do something truly amazing and make history with this initiative. All that we need to do is make the commitment to implementing the proposal – so let’s get to voting, Eagles.