10/14/16 | How can we all make a difference during election season? The ninth session of JWU Providence’s Global Speakers series, titled Civic Engagement & Informed Citizenship, took a head-on approach to demystify the current political climate — and offer strategic methods to ensure that all JWU students can make their voices heard.
The 4 panelists represented 3 generations of political activism and brought a collective wealth of lived experience to the table:
- Nellie Gorbea, RI Secretary of State
- Jane Koster, president, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island
- Emily Lynch, assistant professor, Political Science, College of Arts & Sciences
- Lexy Parsons, president, JWU Providence Student Government Association
- Moderator: Sierra Barter, JWU Providence social media coordinator
Their advice to students was straightforward, encouraging and practical.
Being an asset to your community is really important.” -Lexy Parsons
1) Define your own level of engagement.
All of the panelists emphasized starting small (and within your comfort zone), then building upon/expanding actions from there.
SECRETARY GORBEA: Civics with a small ‘c’ really means being a part of things. It’s asking questions and engaging in conversation in a constructive way. “Can we do this better?”
LEXY PARSONS: Making a difference in your community — whether it’s in your classroom, your campus or the state itself — is about living up to your full potential. Being an asset to your community is really important.
2) Passionate about a cause? Find a like-minded group to work with.
GORBEA: If you’re an RI resident, find boards or commissions you can be a part of. As a non-resident, get involved in the nonprofit sector. I learned so much serving as a board member, particularly about how things work. It’s also a good way to learn about yourself — what do you want to do? You want to be in rooms where things are happening. Listen, then ask, “How can I help?”
PRESIDENT KOSTER: We all have our heart set on certain issues. When you’re part of a group, listening is important, as is coming to an agreement you can all believe in — that’s necessary if you’re going to be an advocate for a cause. Have a voice, respect the mission and get involved now!
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT PANELISTS (L-R): JWU PROVIDENCE SGA PRESIDENT LEXY PARSONS, JWU POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMILY LYNCH, LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS PRESIDENT JANE KOSTER AND RI SECRETARY OF STATE NELLIE GORBEA.
PARSONS: Being engaged with the JWU community is a good first step. There are now more than 130 student-run organizations on campus — start making connections.
PROFESSOR LYNCH: If there isn’t an existing club that addresses your interests, start one!
PARSONS: And hopefully, student government on campus isn’t intimidating. Use the assets and resources at your disposal to their fullest!
GORBEA: I’d also say that informational interviews [where you reach out to an organization that interests you to learn more about their mission and expertise] are a very freeing exercise. You will gain a whole new vantage point, both about the industry or field you’re learning about, and your own interests.
3) Stay informed.
GORBEA: Elections are not meant to be pop quizzes. But staying informed should not feel like a burden — you can download the ballot ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the issues. Google stuff you don’t know. Come in ready.
KOSTER: Go to the League of Women Voter’s website (either Rhode Island or national). We outline the big issues there.
LYNCH: I recommend downloading an app from a trusted national news source.
BARTER: I’m obsessed with “The Skimm,” a daily newsletter that breaks down the most essential news stories.
4) Take part in campus and community events — it’s a great way to network.
GORBEA: Getting involved is actually really good for your careers. It’s a fantastic way to meet people. I can tell you that I would not be RI Secretary of State if I hadn’t gotten involved early. My comfort zone early on was getting involved in my community. They gave me a place to feel out my skills — strengths and weaknesses alike.
5) Don’t get discouraged by heated political debate or confusing rhetoric — get the facts.
LYNCH: Go to nonpartisan sites like FactCheck.org.
GORBEA: Politifact.com is another good one. The RI Department of State has also developed a website, RIVotes.org, to get people excited about voting. It was created by millennials and for millennials. We’d love your feedback!
CIVICS LESSON ON THE BACK PAGE OF RI VOTER INFO HANDBOOK. DESIGN: LAKUNA DESIGN, NEWPORT