Institute for Democracy & Higher Education

Politics 365

What’s “in the water” at highly politically engaged campuses, especially those that have closed equity gaps in participation?

In 2015, using data from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, IDHE undertook a study designed to identify common attributes of campuses with highly politically engaged students. We also collected data through focus groups, interviews, and examinations of websites, news reports, and other public documents.

We discovered surprising consistency across campuses, regardless of mission, institutional type, geography, and student populations. We found that engagement in democracy reflects “what’s in the water” on a campus year-round (hence “Politics 365”). There are no quick fixes.

Attributes of Highly Engaged Campuses

  • A strong and well-publicized institutional commitment to student well-being, sense of belonging, and shared responsibility for each other, their learning, the campus community, and the surrounding community, region, nation, and globe; support for students’ basic needs and for emergencies.

  • Multidisciplinary curricular and cocurricular programming, social justice education, and area and multicultural disciplines; pervasive and accessible support systems, dedicated physical spaces or centers and programming for affinity groups and multicultural engagement, empathy, compassion, and nimble and supportive responses to external events or crises.

  • Skilled discussions in classes, disciplinary societies and clubs, dining facilities, commuter lounges, first-year experiences, decision-making processes, community engagement experiences, and institutional responses to crises or current events; evident institutional support for academic freedom and balanced approach to free speech and inclusion; commitment to truth and evidence-based viewpoints.

  • Historical activist groups; stories, norms, and traditions of political engagement passed down by generations of students and faculty; dynamic political and civic engagement in the immediate surrounding community; centers, institutes, and clubs with traditions and history of political engagement.

  • Motivating and supporting student voice in campus decision making and activism around public policies, training programs in collaborative leadership, community organizing, and nonviolent activism. institutional leaders or faculty advocates for student involvement in institutional and local engagement, especially disenfranchised students.

  • Embedding diversity into regular institutionalized practices; providing centers or physical empowering spaces for discussions of issues related to marginalized identities such as race, ethnicity, and gender; commitment to increasing the diversity of the student body and faculty; implementing policies and practices that uniquely recognize the needs of students based on their marginalized and or vulnerable identities.

  • A “buzz” around elections; faculty and institutional leaders champion electoral engagement; efforts made to reduce barriers to student voting; intentional efforts to measure and close equity gaps in voting; coalitions of students, faculty, staff, and institutional leaders in using elections as opportunities to test and implement permanent, year-round engagement.

Read About It

Conduct a Study of Your Campus

Contact us at [email protected] to learn how you can conduct a study of your campus climate for political learning and engagement in democracy.