When students come to college, they come seeking a well-rounded education that will empower them to be more knowledgeable and career-prepared upon graduation. Civic and community engagement prepares students for life after college by helping them develop an array of skills, like critical thinking, decision making, and open-mindedness. Civic engagement, along with applied learning, focuses on educating student as citizens through the integration of these initiatives into classes, and programs, including reflection and engagement components that focus on civic responsibilities, engagement in local politics, voter participation, social action, and service to the community.
In support of ongoing civic engagement efforts among our students, SUNY is proud to celebrate Constitution Day on September 17 every year. Constitution Day is an American federal observance recognizing the adoption of the United States Constitution. While programming specifically focusing on the Constitution is important, SUNY goes a step further by promoting broader civic engagement activities and public deliberations.
Constitution Day is one of the many opportunities for us to engage our students in the democratic process. It provides an opportunity for us to get our students thinking about voting and civic engagement early in the semester. Even outside of big election years, we are able to create buzz and energy on campus to get students excited about making their voices heard.
This year’s efforts are greater than ever. There will be celebrations of this monumental day in history on every one of SUNY’s 64 campuses. Voter registration drives will be held at 42 SUNY campuses. 23 campuses will be distributing pocket-sized copies of the United States Constitution to students. Prominent figures are coming from throughout the state to SUNY campuses to speak with students- including the one and only Uncle Sam himself at SUNY Cobleskill.
While many of the efforts are universal throughout the system, a number of colleges are hosting unique events to engage their individual student bodies. Jefferson Community College is hosting a panel discussion on the separation of power and checks and balances with faculty, staff and students over lunch. SUNY Canton is inviting students to participate in a Constitution Day trivia game.
SUNY Cortland and the University at Albany are challenging students to decide for themselves what is most important about this day. At a popular campus restaurant at SUNY Cortland, the college will have an 8 foot blackboard inviting students to answer the question “what is the U.S. Constitution’s most important amendment?” Later, students will partner with staff and two Cortland County legislators to host a deliberative dialogue entitled “The U.S. Constitution, Citizenship, and the Climate Crisis.” At the University at Albany, students are competing in a creative writing contest to respond to the prompt “if you could write a 29th amendment, what would it be and why?”
A few colleges, like the NYS College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and Maritime College, are taking this opportunity to recognize the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. Maritime College will be hosting local legislators, a NYS Court Judge, an expert on Eliza Hamilton and the Constitution, and the League of Women Voters to speak to students about women’s suffrage, and will be featuring a poster session contest for students to prepare original posters on women’s suffrage. The day will conclude with a film night to show Iron Jawed Angels.
Constitution Day is big among the student bodies at each of our 64 colleges and universities, where students come together to celebrate and learn. SUNY Student Assembly Vice President Kate Wood, founder of the SA’s Gender Equity Committee, said “Constitution Day is the perfect time for an open discussion on our rights and values, and how they came to be. As young women, the ability to be active and engaged in our political process is critical to ensuring those elected into roles of leadership represent us and can advocate on a myriad of issues through a woman’s lens. I am grateful to all of the brave women and men who fought tirelessly to ensure that we would always have a seat at that table.”
Taryn Rackmyer is a recent graduate of Mohawk Valley Community College, now attending the University at Albany for Public Policy. Taryn is a student assistant for SUNY's Government Relations & Marketing Department.