The James Madison Center for Civic Engagement


by Becca Evans

Madison Center for Civic Engagement featureimage

SUMMARY: Under the directorship of David Kirkpatrick, PhD, the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement is “making JMU a place where global conversations happen,” by partnering with international institutions to enhance JMU's civic engagement mission and preparing students for an active and informed role in democracy.

The James Madison Center for Civic Engagement made a splash on Constitution Day 2022 by unveiling a special purple-bound edition of the United States Constitution. A hit with students, faculty and alumni alike, the pocket constitution has “sold out” and the center has ordered another print run for fundraising and programming.

Madison Center for Civic Engagement articlespot1We welcomed the center into the College of Arts and Letters in late 2021. David C. Kirkpatrick, associate professor of religion, was appointed interim Executive Director in May of 2022. Kara Dillard was subsequently appointed as interim Associate Director, bringing with her fifteen years of experience in the deliberative democracy and public engagement fields. She is assistant professor in communication studies and a co-director of the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue.

Dillard will lead the National Week of Deliberation on campus this April. “The event offers a chance to engage students in discussions about ‘wicked’ issues like climate change, inequality, immigration and more,” says Dillard. “[This] is an opportunity to connect JMU students with students across the nation, for small-group forums facilitated by other undergraduate students.” The National Week of Deliberation is meant to spark students’ civic imagination and make them feel heard and respected, even as they discuss difficult problems.

The center has big plans for expanding its scope and reach, including partnering with Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute to launch the Civic History Exchange program in Spring 2024. The program focuses on African American history and civil rights through student exchange and on-site civic learning. JMU students will have the opportunity to explore the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers at Stanford, while Stanford students will conduct on-site research at Montpelier, Monticello, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Madison Center for Civic Engagement articlespot2They also support Dukes Vote, a student-led initiative that works with academic and student affairs, and with community partners, to enhance JMU's civic engagement mission by preparing students for an active and informed role in democracy. Recently, the program launched a student-led podcast, Dukes Vote Podcast, to discuss civic engagement at JMU, and hosted Traveling Town Halls for City Council candidates to speak with students in residence halls. A School Board Candidate Forum offered candidates their only chance for public debate during this year’s election cycle.

JMU and the Madison Center for Civic Engagement have been named a third partner institution for the influential Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy (ICSLD), joining North Carolina State University and University of Augsburg (Germany). In September 2023, JMU will host the next institute, an intensive 10-day seminar and residential retreat that brings members of the JMU community together with influential global leaders from a range of professions and disciplines to grapple with the pressing challenges of modern democracy and civic engagement.

“We are making JMU a place where global conversations happen,” said Kirkpatrick. “JMU has long been a national leader in civic engagement under President Jon Alger’s leadership. Becoming a partner institution for and hosting the ICSLD reflects our goal at the Madison Center of leading national and international conversations around strengthening our democracy for the common good.”

To learn more about the center’s many other initiatives and accomplishments, visit its website.

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Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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