Peer Review

From the Editor

“The knowledge, skills, and experiences students need for responsible citizenship should be part of each student’s general education program. But civic inquiry and collaborative problem solving also need to be included in students’ major programs, including programs that prepare graduates for immediate entry into careers.”

National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement
A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future

The world has changed in numerous and significant ways since 2012, when AAC&U published A Crucible Moment and issued its national call to invest “on a massive scale in higher education’s capacity to renew this nation’s social, intellectual, and civic capital.” However, in this current time of fraught political discourse and deep divides across differences, the report’s recommendations are still critically needed. A Crucible Moment’s authors assert that students who participate in civic learning opportunities are more likely to develop habits of social responsibility and civic participation. This correlation appears within the work of groups known for fostering engaged citizens, such as the Girl Scouts of the USA.

While conducting research for my book, Thin Mint Memories: Scouting for Empowerment through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, I spoke with dozens of adult Girl Scouts about the impact that the organization has had on their lives. Much of this conversation happened at the 2012 Girl Scout centennial anniversary convention, where I interviewed several lifelong members about a range of subjects, including civic and community engagement. What I learned through those interviews aligns with findings from the Girl Scouts’s 2012 alumnae impact study, Girl Scouting Works. The report reveals that Girl Scout alumnae of six years or more are more likely to vote than nonalumnae, with 58 percent of those alumnae reporting that they always vote, versus 41 percent of nonalumnae. In that same study, 55 percent of Girl Scout alumnae of six years or more, versus 43 percent of nonalumnae, strongly agreed with the statement, “When I see a problem, I prefer to do something about it rather than sit by and let it continue.” In my own interviews, nearly all the women with whom I spoke credited their Girl Scout experiences with their desire to help make the world a better place.

By linking educational programming and civic engagement activities, the Girl Scouts and similar organizations provide members with the opportunity to develop the skills and mindsets to make change happen. Providing an undergraduate student with similar opportunities in the major—connecting a student’s academic and professional interests with civic learning—empowers the individual to effect positive change.

Just as being a Girl Scout cultivates skills in community problem solving, engagement with diversity as a college student also promotes democratic outcomes, as research conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California−Los Angeles has confirmed. Sylvia Hurtado, Adriana Ruiz, and Hannah Whang report in a 2012 Diversity & Democracy article on findings from HERI’s Diverse Learning Environments Survey that “the more courses students took that included opportunities to study and serve communities in need, . . . materials or readings about race/ethnicity, or opportunities for intensive dialogue between students with different backgrounds and beliefs, the more confident students were in their skills for living and working in a diverse society.”

This issue of Peer Review, supported by the Endeavor Foundation, includes articles that explore how civic learning in the major can connect students’ awareness and their actions. Told from the perspectives of faculty from several institutions and majors—including African American studies, chemistry and biochemistry, civic communication and media, English, environmental studies, nursing, interdisciplinary majors, social work, and sociology—these pieces interrogate how departments can use civic engagement lenses not only to enrich learning but also to strengthen students’ senses of personal and social responsibility. This outcome is key because civic engagement experiences, as Wagner College president and incoming 2018 AAC&U Board Chair Richard Guarasci wrote in a 2015 HuffPost blog, “deepen our students’ appreciation of what it means to be an active citizen and give them a hand in tackling the complex problems facing our country and world.”

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