Why enroll in a class on local civic engagement?

Marika Straw

The sun is shining, the weather is nice, your classes are winding down — or maybe they aren’t. You’re looking longingly at the grass outside and thinking of jumping naked in lakes or getting up to shenanigans with friends. The last thing on your mind is next year.

But wait! Before you check out, there’s one thing you should consider for next year that you may not have heard of: a civic engagement course.

What’s this, you say? We don’t have classes in civic engagement here!

Ah, but yes, my little grasshopper, we do now! Drumroll, please…

Next fall, Associate Professor of History and Pieper Family Professor of Servant Leadership Monica Rico, Lawrence’s renowned and beloved history professor, will be teaching a class Civic Engagement and the Fox Cities, UNIC 315. In this class, students will explore citizen involvement in local politics and community organization both academically, through readings and through field trips outside of the Lawrence bubble!

If this wasn’t enough, students will also spend a weekend at Bj**o**rklunden and will be eligible to produce a film on a local issue of their choice with award-winning documentary filmmaker and Artist-in-Residence Catherine Tatge in the winter.

If you weren’t completely sold by that dazzling description, I’d like to offer a few more reasons why you should consider taking it.

My first set of reasons is for the self-interested. You know who you are. Don’t worry; I’m one of you, too. This would be so excellent to put on your r**e**sum**e**. Not just because it would look good, but because it would actually mean something.

Taking this class would say something about the ways you choose to spend your time and what you care about. It would teach you about the workings of nonprofits and about community development.

It would teach you how learn about community issues — and hopefully give you some ideas about how to help resolve them. It would teach you how to interact with a variety of people in a variety of contexts.

My second set of reasons involves the importance of community. We live in an interconnected world. Yet often we get wrapped up in ourselves and quit looking outside. This is a shame not just because there is real need in the world, but also because by doing so we’re missing out on opportunities to learn and grow.

We’re here at Lawrence to learn. But what are we here to learn? As I said earlier, it’s practical for us to participate in community life here in terms of gaining job experience. But it’s also personally and emotionally fulfilling.

When we begin to reach out beyond our comfort zones – cough, Lawrence Bubble, cough — we encounter viewpoints that are different from our own. We encounter things that are perhaps emotionally difficult to encounter, such as the realities of poverty and homelessness even in Appleton.

When we encounter these kinds of things, we become unable to look away. We feel we must do something about them.

This is a good thing. This means we’re learning not just how to write an essay, but also how to be compassionate and nonjudgmental. This means we’re growing out of our apathy.

By becoming involved in the local community, we learn what the issues are and become better equipped to deal with them, whether that’s by volunteering at the warming shelter now or by becoming community leaders down the road. Learning about community issues isn’t depressing. It’s empowering.

If you want to become empowered — or even if you even think there’s the slightest chance you might want to take the class — please take a moment to email Rico and let her know. I’m fighting hard for this class because if people don’t sign up for it, it will get cancelled. I just couldn’t bear to see that happen because Lawrentians care more than that. Let’s show them that we do.

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