“At Central Michigan University, we are a community committed to the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, discovery and creativity. We provide student-centered education and foster personal and intellectual growth to prepare students for productive careers, meaningful lives and responsible citizenship in a global society.”
– CMU Mission Statement, adopted by the Board of Trustees, Dec. 2, 2010.
Last year, we began the important work of our Strategic Envisioning Process, which will guide CMU in the coming decades. As we prepare for the future, it is also important to take stock of where we are now. I often revisit our mission, vision and values statements and ask: How are we carrying out the fundamental purposes of our institution?
In my next few blog posts, I’ll reflect on key aspects of our university’s guiding philosophies. As we prepare for Michigan’s March 10 presidential primary, it seems an opportune moment to consider CMU’s role in preparing students for “responsible citizenship in a global society.”
Citizenship is the challenging, sometimes messy and highly necessary work that powers and promotes our democracy. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we are a nation governed by the people, for the people — and our system works only when all of us accept the responsibility for its success. Universities like ours have long played an important role in preparing students for active citizenship. Where else can we bring together so many individuals representing such diversity of thought and experience to engage in thoughtful, informed discussions of challenging issues?
Since my arrival at CMU, I have been impressed by the willingness of our students, faculty and staff to address issues. Together we examine challenging topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to gun rights and abortion at events such as Conversations that Matter and Soup and Substance lunches. Our Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center engages students in service to alleviate hunger, homelessness and more. Registered student organizations raise money for worthy causes and host events to educate and advocate for important social issues. Faculty connect across disciplines through research and teaching to seek complex solutions for challenging problems, as evidenced by interdisciplinary courses, collaborative research partnerships and programs like Critical Engagements.
This campus is FIRED UP about civic and community engagement, but we can always do more. I’d like to offer the following thoughts on what is needed for responsible citizenship. My list is not exhaustive but may be a starting point for students (and faculty, staff, alumni and friends) looking for ways to increase their civic participation.
Find your passion.
Consider the thousands of factors impacting our lives daily: affordable housing, road conditions, access to education and more. Ask: Which problems can I help solve? Choose something that gets your pulse racing, and set a goal to become the best-informed person you know about that issue.
Seek the truth.
Misinformation abounds: Consider the recent headlines concerning Russian interference in elections and federal investigations of social media accounts designed to spread false information. Be a smart consumer of information. Look for multiple reputable sources. Analyze the author’s language and look for hidden agendas. When in doubt, ask a librarian for help identifying objective sources of information. Fake news is a real problem: News literacy and critical thinking are vital skills you can develop and practice here at CMU.
Find a team.
Among the thousands of faculty, staff and students at CMU, you are sure to encounter others who share your passion and purpose. Use CMU’s Engage Central platform to look for registered student organizations or events that focus on the issues that matter most to you. Join forces and seek opportunities to enact positive change. Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Consider other perspectives.
Our experiences shape the way we think and act, and over time many of us develop mental models that limit our ability to embrace new ideas or see a bigger picture. It takes purposeful action to change the lens through which you see the world. Seek out people who think differently. Respectfully ask them why they believe what they believe and be prepared to listen. Practice empathy. Try to see things from their point of view. At the very least, you’ll deepen your understanding of an issue; at best, you’ll make a new friend.
Engage in civil debate.
If an idea or practice seems unfair, challenge it. Healthy debate doesn’t require anger and shouldn’t involve name-calling, as it so often seems to on social media. We can overcome the obstacles of political polarization and incivility if we simply treat others with respect and compassion. Need help? Our Institute for Transformative Dialogue and intergroup dialogue facilitators are wonderful resources for tools to debate differences of opinion.
It may seem a trite turn of phrase, but your voice matters — if you vote. In the 2018 elections, roughly 35% of students at CMU voted; that number is consistent with the average national participation of 18- to 24-year-olds. Elections often are decided by razor-thin margins. Every vote counts. Imagine what we could achieve if we all cast a ballot.
Students, faculty and staff involved in CMU’s Central Votes initiative will offer our campus and community dozens of opportunities to register, get informed and prepare to vote in this year’s presidential election. Don’t miss out.
Our democracy depends on each of us. How will you be a responsible citizen in our global society?