“There is power in identity.”- Bryan Stevenson
Here at the Center for Civic Engagement we like to identify as Active Citizens. Having language attached to what we are doing gives us an identity, and having an identity makes us a movement- people who are striving to to be intentional and work in solidarity with the communities we serve. Using the term “Active Citizen” both enforces being part of a movement, and defines what we strive to achieve through serving the community. As “citizens” we are accepting that we are members of society, and with that we accept the rights, privileges, and duties given to us by the community. By adding “active” to this definition, we are embracing a state of progress and action towards the betterment of the community, rather than just giving ones support. This terminology is used across the country in regards to college campuses pursuing civic engagement and community development.
The CCE as a whole defines it as “actively putting the needs of the community in the forefront of your mind”, but we also believe that it can carry different meanings for everyone. Several students take this definition further by seeing active citizenship as a lens through which you see the world. This means that you see how each of your actions could potentially affect the community you are in, and this effects your everyday decisions. Viewing active citizenship as a lens also shows that this lens can evolve with time. It is a process towards becoming more engaged and aware of the issues that surround your community. Katie Joiner (sophomore) defines active citizenship as, “constantly and organically considering the impact that everything you do and everything that you see done has on the communities you’re a part of.” This use of the word organic implies that truly active citizens no longer need to think about being an active citizen. Meeting the needs of the community is now one of their highest priorities.
Students also shared examples of active citizens they try to model their life after. Sam Brophy (senior) mentions CofC’s own Maggie Szeman as an active citizen role model. She says, “[Maggie] embodies passion about service, and is always inspiring me.” Passion is often seen as a driving force behind embodying this view of the world. Without passion, the work you do is just work and there is no sense of true fulfillment. Active citizenship is more than serving the community because you want to; it is serving the community to fight for justice while furthering your understanding of the communities needs.
The Active Citizenship Continuum is used to place yourself along the process toward active citizenship. It is used as a guide to further your path toward becoming a truly active citizen.
Nicole Fernandez (senior) talks about how active citizenship is a constantly evolving life-long process, and how you can always become a more active citizen. Her personal definition of active citizenship involves, “both a desire to know everything you can, as well as an awareness of the fact that you will never know all there is to know. It also involves a desire to cultivate compassion and connection on both the local and familiar levels, as well as the broader and unfamiliar levels.” Through the cultivation of compassion, individuals gain empathy. Empathy gives people the means of truly understanding the needs of a community. With understanding stems the intentional life choices that define active citizens.