Leaning into Politics

Higher Education's Role in Building the Democracy We Need

Edited by:
Abraham Goldberg, James Madison University
Carah Ong Whaley, University of Virginia

A volume in the series: Research on International Civic Engagement. Editor(s): Walter Heinecke, University of Virginia. Carah Ong Whaley, University of Virginia.

Call for Chapter Proposals

Democratic decline, both in the United States and globally, lack of confidence in political institutions, and an increasingly violent and divisive political climate raise many questions about the state of political learning and civic engagement in higher education.

A decade ago, a U.S. Department of Education task force called on higher education institutions to affirm their missions to educate for democracy. Relatively few have made the investment, though dozens of higher education associations and organizations have publicly committed their support to prepare students to address the persistent public issues they are inheriting. One major research institute has challenged colleges and universities to build year-round political learning opportunities for all students throughout the undergraduate experience.

While there has been a recent upward spike in rote civic knowledge and historically high youth voting rates in recent elections, the United States has seen a decline in political rights and civil liberties over the last decade and has been listed as a backsliding democracy. This coincides with problematic rhetoric and growing scrutiny from public officials on how colleges and universities educate students on public issues, particularly those centered on race, ethnicity and social justice. Some universities have even had budgets slashed for promoting such programming while other states have passed legislation targeting related instruction. At risk are academic freedom and freedom of speech - core tenets of a liberal education. This volume seeks to interrogate how institutions of higher education can contribute to building the agency of students to address the most pressing challenges facing democracy and society by leaning into politics. The book will explore structural and political challenges as well as intentional innovative pedagogy, practices, policies and institutional approaches to effective political learning and engagement with the goal of reimagining and strengthening the democracy we need.

What constitutes political and civic learning in higher education? How is it differentiated from apolitical forms of civic engagement? What are effective political learning and engagement pedagogical and programmatic strategies? Which faculty and campuses employ them? How do political learning and civic engagement outcomes vary across majors and levels of study?

Do campuses have institution-wide political and civic learning objectives? What are they and how are they assessed? In what ways is political learning built into general education programming? Are there noteworthy examples that merit attention?

How can the physical spaces of campuses be leveraged to support political learning and engagement? Who governs the public spaces on university campuses? How are they used by students, faculty and staff? Are there policies, practices or norms that strengthen (or inhibit) political learning and democratic engagement on campuses?

How do perceptions among faculty, students and staff of free speech on campuses affect the scale and scope of political learning initiatives across campuses?

How are justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility integrated into political learning and civic engagement initiatives? What are best practices for integrating and what are the challenges? How can intersectional approaches to political learning and civic engagement build the knowledge, skills and values of students from different backgrounds and center historically marginalized communities?

Who is doing the work of political learning and democracy engagement on campuses? What is expected of those doing the work? How do college and university administrators shield faculty and staff from external pressures when implementing political learning and engagement programming? What barriers to success do they face? Are there best practices for staffing that can strengthen civic learning opportunities and outcomes? How are political learning and engagement embedded in promotion and tenure policies?

What is the national ecosystem of the civic learning and democracy reform movement in higher education? What are the aims of civic learning and democracy engagement initiatives? Who is and is not being served by national or state-wide civic learning and democracy engagement initiatives? How do current initiatives relate historically to movements for civic education and engagement? What ideas and beliefs underpin the movement and how have those ideas and beliefs changed over time?

What resources are provided and from what sources to support student voting, political learning and civic engagement? Where is the locus of work on campuses? Is work situated in academic affairs or student affairs and how does where the work is situated on a campus matter?

What are the expectations of grantmakers and private donors of civic learning and democracy engagement initiatives on campuses? How do those expectations align or not with missions?
How do voting rates of campuses involved or not involved in national civic learning and democracy compare? Are the voting rates of campuses who sign the president’s commitment or join athletic challenges higher than campuses whose presidents are not involved?

Are political learning and democratic engagement initiatives funded, staffed and celebrated differently on campuses? What factors (e.g., institution type, geographic region, state politics, student demographics, etc.) are most associated with having an emphasis on political learning?

In what way are campuses laboratories for students to practice political engagement? What factors (e.g., institution type, geographic region, state politics, student demographics, etc.) are most and least associated with students having an influential voice in the governance of their campuses? How do student newspapers inform political learning on campuses? What are promising practices for experiential political learning opportunities and how does it connect to curricular and/or co-curricular learning outcomes?

How do colleges and universities balance calls for “civil discourse” with goals to create a safe and more equitable, inclusive and just campus experience? Does “civil discourse” programming support or inhibit changes to the status quo?

How are communities in which campuses are situated integrated into the work of strengthening democracy through political learning and civic engagement initiatives? What is asked of communities and what are the benefits and consequences for them? What are best practices for working alongside communities on civic learning and democratic engagement initiatives?
To what extent do community colleges place importance on political learning and civic engagement? How are community colleges, which enroll more students from diverse and underrepresented groups, incorporating political learning into the curriculum and campus-wide experience? What are the impacts of political learning and civic engagement at community colleges?

Proposals consist of your name and affiliation, email address, a tentative title, an abstract (200-350 words) and a brief biography (200-300 words) with relevant professional publications. Proposals can be submitted here:

Authors of accepted abstracts will be notified by January 7, 2023 about the status of their submission and sent chapter guidelines. Full chapters, ranging from 3,500 to 6,000 words in Times New Roman 12, double spaced text, inclusive of title, abstract, manuscript, and references, should be submitted as a Microsoft Word document. Manuscripts should conform to 6th edition APA style conventions. See Author Guidelines. Graphics and images may be included.

Chapters should draw from the author/s own research. Co-authorship and all methodological approaches are welcome. Central themes should be explained in text boxes to engage the reader in the arguments presented. The end of the chapter should provide a summary of key reflections and insights on the research methodology. Reflective questions and recommendations for further reading may provide a wide range of current sources for further exploration and encourage readers to expand their knowledge. Scholars from any discipline, campus administrators and student affairs professionals, and members of community organizations are encouraged to submit.

Abstract Submission: November 30, 2022
Notification of Invite to Submit Chapter: January 7, 2022
Submission of Book Chapter: April 30, 2023
Reviews of Book Chapter Manuscripts Sent to Author(s): June 30, 2023
Receipt by Editors of Final Draft of Book Chapters: September 30, 2023
Final Book Submitted to Publisher: November 30, 2023
Anticipated Publication: February 2024

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