The Civicist

The Civicist: October 2019

October 2019

Civic Engagement

Back to Top

In this Edition:


Our mission is to educate and inspire people to address public issues and cultivate a just and inclusive democracy.

Share your civic work and opportunities with us!

Democracy Counts

The Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University released a major report, Democracy Counts, finding that college student voter participation in the 2018 midterm doubled from 2014. JMU is the first of four campuses featured in the national report (p.10).

In addition to IDHE's national report, JMU received institution specific data as part National Study or Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). Results show that our student voter turnout increased 300% from the 2014 midterm election to the 2018 midterm election (8.8% in 2014 to 32.8% in 2018, a 24 percentage point increase). Read our full NSLVE report here.


We are thrilled to report that James Madison University was recently named one of the top colleges for student voting in the United States. Go Dukes!

Madison Center Advisory Council

The Madison Center’s Advisory Council had its first convening on October 10 and 11. Chaired by JMU Alum Russ Reeder, the group had dinner with President Jon Alger, discussed the Madison Center’s Strategic Plan, and met with undergraduate Democracy Fellows. Advisory Council members also had the privilege of attending the grand opening of a new residence hall named for Paul Jennings, the enslaved personal valet to President James Madison. JMU Alum Raleigh Marshall, a direct decedent of Jennings and member of the Madison Center’s Advisory Council, addressed the audience at the ceremony. Read more about Advisory Council members on our website.

A. Raleigh Marshall and his family. Marshall is a direct descendant of Paul Jennings, the enslaved african-American who served James Madison and his family both at Montpelier, their estate in Virginia, and in Washington, D.C. Marshall told the audience, “History is complicated and we need a more complete telling. I applaud JMUs leadership in undertaking this project and hope other universities will take notice & follow JMU’s example.”
JMU President Jon Alger at the "grand opening" of the Paul Jennings residence hall: “As we continue to recognize Madison’s pivotal role in the founding of our country, as an institution, we must also confront that Madison profited from the ownership of slaves. Paul Jennings was an important historical figure in his own right, and overcame hardship to leave an impressive legacy. It is especially appropriate that we take this step in the year in which Virginia is acknowledging both the 400th anniversary of representative government in America and the arrival of the first enslaved African-Americans in this country.”
JMU Student Government Association President Aaliyah McLean also spoke at the grand opening: "Out of the dark side of history, this residence hall named for Paul Jennings who was enslaved and bought his freedom, will challenge the buildings named for confederates on this campus.”
Constitution Day: Celebrating the 19th Amendment & Women Breaking Barriers

For Constitution Day 2019, JMU students, faculty and staff organized activities around the theme "Women Breaking Barriers" as part of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Activities recognized that the 19th amendment was the result of centuries of activism and contributions from many social movements to ensure through the highest law of the land a “right through which all other rights could be secured.”

Faculty also stopped by to read from key historical primary source documents: JMU Libraries Dean Dr. Bethany Nowviskie read selections from Anna Julia Cooper's 1893 address to the World's Congress of Representative; Dr. Carole Nash (Associate Professor, GS, ISAT) shared a short biography of Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, a Native Activist who worked for Indian suffrage; Professor Amelia Underwood (Department of Military Science) brought a display board with women who served in the military during World War I /II and read the Women Service Integration Act (1948); and Professor Cathy Copeland (Writing Rhetoric & Technical Communication) read the 19th Amendment. And there was even a surprise rap performance about the Constitution by our very own Graduate Assistant Sarah Gully.

Throughout the day at Festival and at the Warner Commons, students came by to tell us what the Constitution means to them or how they would amend it.
Constitution Day Keynote Speaker

Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy was the Constitution Day speaker and focused her remarks on women’s equality: “Sex discrimination is all too real and I have seen and experienced it...Laws can change as quickly as legislators change their mind...We need an amendment to the Constitution to codify our civil rights. It’s not just about pay equity, it’s about women and girls standing in the sun with their full Constitutional equality. It’s not a partisan issue.” In her remarks, Delegate Foy also noted that one of her biggest challenges as a legislator is getting people to care about other people’s issues and emphasized that we have to develop empathy for others and their experiences.

Encouraging people to vote on November 5, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy told the audience, “The only place that Jeff Bezos and the janitor at McDonalds are equal is the ballot box.”
Christine Pick Poulson, JMU College of Arts and Letters alum

JMU Libraries also hosted Constitution Day jeopardy with a special category for the 2020 Census, and Music Libraries' featured a month-long display of women conductors and composers.

As part of Women Breaking Barriers, Christine Pick Poulson, JMU College of Arts and Letters alum, executive director of Resolution Virginia and Staunton City School Board member, spoke with students and faculty about education governance and taking on tough issues as an elected official. Her advice to JMU students, "Write to city council and your members of Congress. Do it again, again and again until it becomes comfortable. They're public servants. They are there for us."

Voting Rights & 2020 Census Break w/ Community Service-Learning

Aaliyah McLean (‘19 - ’20 Student Body President) and Ethan Gardner (Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellow at JMU Civic and Chair of Legislative Affairs in the Student Government Association) co-led an alternative weekend break co-sponsored by Community Service Learning with Carah Ong Whaley (associate director Madison Center) as the learning partner.

On Friday evening, the team met with JMU alum and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney who reminded us, "Registering to vote is like just making it to first base. You’ve got to go all the way around the diamond. That means voting, advocating & running for office.”


Saturday began with learning about the importance of civic engagement, restoration of voting rights & the 2020 Census from Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.


We then spent the rest of Saturday educating people about the 2020 Census with the Virginia Civic Engagement Table & registering voters at the State Fair.

We concluded the weekend by working on projects for the Virginia Complete Count Commission, writing an op-ed and finalizing the Harrisonburg Voter Education Guide for the 2019 election. We learned there are many structural and motivational barriers to voting and census participation, which can be overcome by taking the time to talk about why voting and civic engagement matters for individuals and communities, especially in terms of representation in all levels of government and decision-making.

2019 Virginia Elections Are Coming!

In collaboration with the Office of Residence Life, and Breeze TV, Dukes Vote and the Madison Center organized a traveling town hall featuring Delegate Tony Wilt and Brent Finnegan, candidates for the 26th District House of Delegates race. The candidates visited three residence halls to talk about issues affecting the district and the Commonwealth ahead of the November 5 election, and to answer student questions. Thanks to WHSV TV 3 for covering.

Delegate Tony Wilt
Brent Finneagan

A HUGE thank you to JMU faculty and Gen Ed for once again providing the opportunity for Dukes Vote and the Madison Center to educate and encourage JMU students to be informed participants in our democracy. Since the start of the semester, Dukes Vote has visited more than 50 classes to register and educate students for the upcoming Virginia Elections. In addition, Dr. Kara Kavanagh led voter engagement efforts in the College of Education and visited 11 classes to educate COE students about the state elections this Fall.

In collaboration with the Madison Center and Dukes Vote, students of Professor Andreas Broscheid's Honors Political Science Class researched and prepared the 2019 Voter Education Guide - Harrisonburg edition. The nonpartisan guide includes biographical profiles provided by candidates standing for election in the Virginia Senate, House of Delegates, Commonwealth's Attorney, Sheriff and Soil and Water Conservation District Manager races. In addition, it includes all candidate responses' to student questionnaires about their priorities and local issues of importance. 


Election Day Happenings
Post-Election Analysis

Election hangover? We've got the remedy! Join us for four expert takes on the outcome of the 2019 Virginia elections: JMU School of Media Arts & Design - SMAD Professor Ryan Alessi, JMU Department of Political Science Dr. Valerie Sulfaro, Ethan Gardner and Michael Walsh, moderated by JMU Civic Associate Director Dr. Carah Ong Whaley. We will also discuss implications of the elections for governance. Plus FREE Pizza!

National Voter Registration Day

There's a reason JMU was recently named one of the best campuses for student voting! We're so grateful to all the partners who contributed to cross-campus efforts during National Voter Registration Day week. Watch the WHSV - TV 3 coverage of our National Voter Registration Day efforts across campus!

JMU College Republicans, Student Government Association, Campus Vote Project, Campus Election Engagement Project, & Virginia21 joined us on the Quad and in UREC to educate and register voters.
JMU Librarian Kristen Shuyler did a voter education training and then registered voters in Carrier Library.
2020 Census

Students are counted where they reside on April 1, 2020 AND spend most of their time, which means that the majority of students will be counted in their college community. Therefore, the 2020 Census presents an important opportunity to foster campus-community partnerships to ensure complete counts through education and engagement with some of the hardest-to-count populations in our states, including in rural communities, communities of color, non-English speaking populations and off-campus, first generation students, students experiencing homelessness, adult, renter and highly mobile students. Colleges and universities have a special responsibility to the communities in which we are situated to ensure a complete count in the 2020 Census because it will directly impact political representation for the next decade and impact funding and other decisions guided by census data. Learn more and check out our resources here. Read and share the 2020 Census primer for students by students!

Dr. Elias Semaan, Associate Professor of Finance in JMU College of Business, has served on the national advisory board of the U.S. Census Bureau. He told us why the 2020 Census matters. Take a watch and share!

James Madison University’s 2020 Census efforts were featured in a Richmond Times Dispatch editorial on the Census and higher education. JMU President Jon Alger and Madison Center associate director Dr. Carah Ong Whaley are both appointed commissioners on the Virginia Complete Count Commission. Carah presented at the Complete Count Commission in September and told the Commission: "Students want to be active in the political process and by giving them ownership of census outreach, they’re helping their peers understand the importance. Participating in 2020 is important because it’s going to affect their political representation for the next decade." Take a read!

Breeze reporter Mitchell Sasser wrote about Higher Education’s responsibility in the 2020 Census by highlighting JMU President Jonathan Alger and Madison Center associate director Dr. Carah Whaley’s contributions to Virginia’s Complete Count Commission.

Woodson Martin Democracy Fellow Mary Tolentino (JMU ‘23) organized a workshop for community members to learn how to craft stories of their immigration experience through narrative and digital mapping tools. The workshop encouraged participants to share these stories with family members as a celebration of the contributions of immigrants and refugees in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area.

volunteering-lucy-simms.jpgThe workshop, organized in collaboration with Communications Professor Dr. Carlos Aleman, JMU Libraries, and Virginia Organizing, and with support from Virginia Humanities, took place Wednesday, October 16 at the Lucy Simms Center. High school students of the Scholars Latino Initiative helped facilitate the storytelling experience and shared their own storymapping projects.

UC San Diego Students Civic Engagement Alternative Break with Dukes Vote

For a week in September, eleven students from the University of California San Diego visited Washington, DC and JMU’s campus for a civic engagement Alternative Break. The students, who were incredibly impressive and inspiring, spent five days at JMU learning about voter education and engagement, engaging students on pressing public issues through Tent Talks, and the 2020 Census.

UCSD and JMU students went on a community walking tour led by Steven Thomas of the Northeast Neighborhood Association
UCSD and JMU students spent a day together at James Madison’s Montpelier.
Leaders Advancing Democracy – Mongolia


advancing-dem-mongolia2.jpgThe Madison Center hosted a delegation of business professionals, elected officials and members of civil society from Mongolia on September 10. The Leaders Advancing Democracy – Mongolia (LEAD Mongolia) delegation spent several weeks in the United States based at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in civic engagement leadership trainings designed to support promising young leaders to work collaboratively to solve the country’s most pressing issues. The program is a partnership with World Learning and sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Among other things at JMU, the delegation participated in civic engagement workshops and spoke in Brian Charette and President Alger’s Honors Leadership class and Manal Jamal’s Introduction to Global Politics class.

Weekly Tent Talks

Our Tent Talks have continued this Fall, bringing public issues to the Quad and offering students an opportunity to engage in conversation (and register to vote or request an absentee ballot. For our talks, we prepare primers on an issue and come prepared with questions to engage students in conversation. Some of our Fall talks included: the 2019 Harrisonburg Voter Education GuideImpeachmentImmigration and the 2020 Census.

Other Happenings

JMU’s Health Policy Collaborative once again brought together students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to understand how the intersection of health and public policy can help communities build more affordable, effective and accessible care systems. while exploring how legislative advocacy can improve wellness, work and quality of life for many Americans. On October 14, more than 200 students and faculty – along with Virginia House of Delegates representative Tony Wilt and Democratic House of Delegates candidate Brent Finnegan – attended the Health Policy Summit (HPS) where they analyzed issues related to the opioid epidemic and discussed innovative solutions to minimize gaps in care.

debate-skills.jpgJames Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University and State Council on Higher Education in Virginia hosted the Debate for Civic Learning Institute on the JMU campus in September. Seventy faculty, staff, and students from across over twenty institutions learned about implementing debate and argument based instruction for improving student civic engagement skills. The Institute builds on a successful pilot program between VCU and JMU, which saw improvement in students' evidence-based reasoning, empathy, and advocacy skills across disciplines from health sciences and dentistry to Spanish and elementary education. One institute participant said, "I think this method can be applied in such a wide variety of settings to spur and drive a passion and excitement for learning that many students have lost in the regimented and 'sage on the stage' type settings in the U.S. classroom. I think this has the potential to give voice, perspective, and critical thinking skills to a generation being thrown more information and expectations at a faster paced than seen before."

Moving beyond the headlines, JMU Department of Political Science faculty experts Dr. Tim LaPira and Dr. Valerie Sulfaro provided insights into the impeachment process, how it works, what we might expect next and how it will affect politics. Read about it on our blog and watch WHSV 3 coverage here.


In October, students in a deliberative dialogue class with Dr. Lori Britt partnered with the Madison Center on a student dialogue focusing on political conversations at JMU leading up to the 2020 election. Students trained by the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue facilitated the conversation, and attendees learned about results of a recently completed campus climate study for political learning.

JMU Civic Engagement Fellow Bryana Moore with poet Sonia Sanchez and Major Jackson.

Engagement Fellow Bry Moore attended the 1619 Making of America Summit at Norfolk State University showcasing the history and transforming the narratives of the past 400 years since the arrival of African slaves, English settlers, and colonization of Native lands. Read about it on our blog here.

Bry also attended the Furious Flower Poetry Center celebration of its 25th Anniversary on September 27 and 28, 2019 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and wrote about it for our blog here.

In a recent podcast, James Madison University President Jon Alger talked with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges about the critical public role higher education institutions play in supporting and sustaining democratic values and structures by educating students from many backgrounds and perspectives to be full participants in democracy. Take a listen!

In September, Madison Center associate director Dr. Carah Ong Whaley facilitated two Center for Faculty Innovation workshops for JMU faculty on embedding civic learning and democratic engagement in curriculum.

Upcoming Events & Opportunities


Now that the weather is getting colder, we’ll be going inside to talk about complex issues. Join us for Civic Coffee Donut Discussions on Thursdays. Weekly topics, times and locations announced on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.




Want to learn how to incorporate civic learning into majors? Apply for the Institute on Civic Prompts in the Major being held at George Washington University on March 6. There is no registration fee and the application deadline is December 16. Departments can form small teams to attend. Please contact us if you would like to form a team, have questions or need help with the application. This is an excellent way to help students connect their undergraduate education with public issues and meaningful democratic engagement. Contact us at civic@jmu.edu for more information.

The #CLDE20 Call for Proposals is OPEN! Submit your proposals for concurrent sessions, Pecha Kucha presentations and Civic Cafe Facilitators by January 31, 2020. https://www.naspa.org/events/CLDE20


Published: Friday, November 1, 2019

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Related Articles