Southern will host a five-day civic engagement campaign in celebration of Constitution Week, a national observance commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution. The event, scheduled for Sept. 17 to 23, will cover topics about the Constitution, the First Amendment, and the importance of voter registration, as well as civil dialogue in today’s political arena.
Senior Advisor for Diversity, Unity and Inclusion Stephanie Guster sees Constitution Week as an opportunity to encourage voting among students.
“It’s an invitation for our campus to get involved and become informed,” she said.
Guster and the planning committee are working on ways to educate students about voter registration and how to vote by absentee ballot. Organizers also plan to disseminate information about the shortage of poll workers and how students can earn extra income by working in that area.
Along with the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC), the planning committee will also use this platform to emphasize the five freedoms stated in the First Amendment—the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press, and the rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. Each day will focus on a different freedom.
On Sept. 17, History and Political Studies Department Chair Lisa Diller and a student panel will have a critical conversation during convocation in commemoration of Constitution Day. On Sept. 18, campus-wide activities will focus on “Freedom of Religion.”
Additionally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the United States —Tennessee being the last state to do so. On Sept. 21, there will be a Women’s Suffrage Parade on the Promenade in celebration of freedom of assembly. Guster said she hopes to bring attention to this subject because many people don’t know about this pivotal moment in history.
“That’s a privilege that we don’t talk enough about,” she said. “If not discussed, it could be easily taken for granted.”
Next week, the SJC will hold two events. The first is a spoken word competition based on the five freedoms, which will be held Sept. 22 to reaffirm the importance of free speech. Students, alumni and members of the community are invited to participate. The prizes are $250, $100 and $50 for first-, second- and third-place winners, respectively. The second event is a “Social Justice and the Five Freedoms” virtual town hall meeting scheduled for Sept. 23. The next day, on Sept. 24, history professor Kevin Burton will deliver a presentation titled: “Is Social Justice Anti-Adventism?”
Through the week-long observance, Guster hopes to encourage civil dialogue among Christians about the current political climate.
“We need to figure out a way to be engaged and talk through issues as [Christ] would have us to do,” Guster said. “…Being civically engaged as a Christian means knowing the reason you’ve chosen to do something or knowing the reason you’ve chosen not to do something.”
Other departments, clubs and organizations participating in Constitution Week include Southern Votes, the School of Social Work, the Social Work Club, the League of Women Voters and the Society of Political Sciences.
“What we would love to see happen at the end of this week is that students of every major make a connection [to] their life choice of study,” Guster said.
“Professors [can] encourage civic activities toward understanding civic engagement and having the dialogues in their courses…helping students [recognize] how their major connects with civic responsibility and voter registration.”