Throughout one’s time in college, a student goes through changes. The day-to-day life of a college student, in many ways, emulates the real world. We lose friends, and make new ones. We have days full of laughter and smiles, and days where you feel nothing but pain. Some of us are loud and boisterous, and others simply focus on living out their day-to-day lives. College can reflect how someone will respond to matters of the world that concern them after graduation. Some react with ambivalence; others respond with great passion to the matters of the world. The great beauty is that college can help you find whatever it is you wish to become through student organizations.
This self definition is relevant especially for black students, because being in a predominantly white institution can create alienation, isolation and frustration. Student organizations bring us together where we analyze and discuss culture. In the process, we find ourselves outside of the classroom. This growth is represented in joining social organizations, fraternities or sororities, cultural organizations or Black business-related organizations. There is an incredible amount of black organizations on campus that students can choose from. However, the question remains: what does civic engagement look like? There are so many ways to answer this question, and with each answer another question arises. I hope that, dear reader, you find within yourself the answers to these questions and, in turn, inspire others to pursue their own truth.
There is an undeniably powerful effect that civic engagement has on campuses. It is fascinating to see how students draw inspiration from one another, how collaborations are built out of similarity and mutuality and the types of discussions that are produced from them. It is a privilege to be a part of any institution of higher learning. As students who will one day become thinkers and leaders for future generations, we can generate this similar mindfulness when discussing social issues and matters of great importance.
This conversing reflects positively on what growth can come from discussions around modern discourse. While some may be oriented to favor relaxed and laid-back environments, or discussions that are more focused on contemporary culture, it becomes, nevertheless, relevant for students to also show a willingness to go into communities and help service them. Dr. Christine M. Cress, a professor of educational leadership at Portland State University, wrote that civic engagement does three specific things:
Helps students learn more academic content. Those who utilize student organizations to assist in aiding or servicing communities are able to test their own models of leadership and collaboration without the pressure of an academic environment (Cress). Black students who study business, management, finance or humanities-based disciplines can innovate with this knowledge to create and plan events that can advocate for the Black population on campus.
Learn higher order thinking. In other words, civic engagement can help students find opportunities to perfect and innovate methodology to address needs of communities (Cress). This can range from taking food and water donations that are connected to the Flint water crisis and finding ways to connect this approach to structural problems, registering students to vote or generating a larger discussion around voter engagement and the political history behind the Black vote.
Increases student’s emotional intelligence. Students who collaborate to address community needs bring a lot of different experiences and fields of knowledge to the table, and this is effective in producing a positive impact in communities. We see that civic engagement “…Becomes coalesced in mindful and caring community involvement” (Cress).
What does this mean for the Black community?
Our legacy as Black students that allows us to exist on this campus is largely connected to the struggle before us for human decency. It allows me to write this paper. It allows you, dear reader, to hold this article in your hand and read it wherever on campus you may be. In this light, I see that civic engagement connects us all to a higher principle of survival that our people have used for centuries to advocate, connect and find each other on deeper emotional levels than just the day to day rigors of the academic classroom. In this sense, I hope that as time moves forward, we find, as a community, ways to implement civic engagement more in our organizations. With the presidential election looming in a not-too-distant future (yikes!) we all need to find ways to come together and make the changes we wish to see in the world to make this university better than when we first came into it. In this sense, I hope you find whatever it is you are passionate about, and use it to Belong, Stand Out, and Go Far!
Kyle Thomopson is the outgoing vice president of the Black Student Union.