From the Editor: Democracy in Action

I’ll get right to the point: Go vote. On Election Day this November, make sure you and your students cast ballots, even if it means doing so by mail.

Last fall, when I first started working on this issue’s theme, “Democracy in Action,” much was already at stake in the United States with regard to democratic participation, public support for higher education, more equitable systems for student access and funding, as well as a variety of other issues. Now, as I write this note, my initial inclination is to talk about how, in the midst of the current global pandemic—and a failure of public leadership to prepare for and handle such a crisis—the stakes are even higher.

But the stakes are not suddenly higher. Democracy is not suddenly more important than it was yesterday. When it comes to democratic systems and participation, which directly affect access to and support for education, the stakes have always been life and death. The COVID-19 pandemic is simply laying bare just how much was already at stake. It is merely emphasizing with many exclamation points the importance of higher education’s mission to be on the forefront of protecting democracy and ensuring students are prepared to become engaged citizens—including as doctors, scientists, ethicists, communicators, and many other needed experts—who can address complicated global issues.

Most of the articles in this issue were written before the COVID-19 outbreak, yet the challenges presented in them must be grappled with in order to handle this present pandemic, prevent future pandemics, and face other global crises. In considering the renewal of the Higher Education Act, the chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Higher Education Financing and Student Outcomes discuss federal policy recommendations for increasing higher education access, affordability, and accountability. Writers from the Education Trust look at why black student borrowers struggle more with debt than other groups and offer ways to help level the playing field. Former US Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter talks about the College Promise Campaign’s work in local communities and across states to provide more students with a college education. As the United States responds to the pandemic, Richard A. Cherwitz calls on scholars to employ visual rhetoric to combat “fake news” and to hold leaders accountable as they make policy decisions. Marisol Morales and Jacqueline Perez Valencia share their personal stories of civic transformation and look at how educators can support today’s students of color in becoming empowered activists.

One of the essential things, as Brian Murphy points out in his essay on higher education’s role in protecting democracy, is ensuring students are informed about the issues and that they go out to vote. It’s always been imperative that we prepare students to serve in a functioning democracy—this deadly new virus is simply making what’s at stake that much clearer.

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