Civic engagement programs to launch through ‘Chasing the American Dream’ series

Logan Raschke, Managing Editor

The Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism is starting conversations with students about current issues, local and federal governments, the presidential election and civic engagement through its upcoming Chasing the American Dream series.

The program officially starts Sept. 5 with the program “Defining the American Dream”: Students can help the office build a U.S. Flag by defining what they believe “the American Dream” means, according to Eastern’s website. Students can drop off their submissions from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union Bridge Lounge.

The Chasing the American Dream series will be ongoing through Fall 2020 with several programs available every semester.

In September, October and November, students can attend the EIU Ted Talks in which speakers discuss issues such as 9/11’s impact on immigration, national impacts of Islamophobia and workplace discrimination and the history of voter suppression, to name several. 

The I-Civics Game Nights, which are interactive video games geared toward educating players about similar current issues, will also be available to attend September through November. 

Beth Gillespie, director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, said Alex Martens, a graduate assistant for the office, started asking questions last fall about what more Eastern could do to promote civic engagement among its students.

Martens said he knew the office was doing great things for the “volunteerism” part of civic engagement and volunteerism, but he believed the “civic engagement” part could use a new program for students. That is where development for what would soon become the Chasing the American Dream series began.

Inspiration for the series came from his own experience as an undergraduate student, Martens said.

When Martens was working on his undergraduate degree, the president of his university introduced him and his fellow students to a talk that impacted him, he said.

A Republican senator and a Democratic House member visited the university to have a discussion about civility in political discussion. 

Martens said the experience changed his perspective on politics as a whole, and it had a part in inspiring him to do more for civic engagement activities and education at Eastern.

“Having both people from both parties and the university president and having a discussion about, you know, ‘we can actually have different opinions but still respect each other, and we can actually get things done without attacking each other,’” Martens said. “I think ever since I’ve had that, I’ve really kind of seen politics in a different way.”

Gillespie said what makes the Chasing the American Dream series an effective learning tool for students is its neutral stance on all issues it discusses. 

“Regardless of where on the political spectrum people fall, everyone needs to feel that this is a safe space to come and learn,” Gillespie said.

Martens and Gillespie said another interesting aspect of this series lies within its name: Chasing the American Dream. They said they are both interested in seeing how students define the “American Dream” itself. 

Gillespie said she believes as the U.S. people’s moral and political beliefs have shifted over decades, their perceptions and definitions of the American Dream have “evolved” in turn. Instead of the “white picket fence,” nuclear family, Gillespie said she thinks the average person defines it differently now.

Martens and Gillespie said college students have a responsibility to remain aware of current events, even though not all of them are. That is why they would both encourage students to attend the monthly programs. 

Dates and locations for the programs are available on Eastern’s website.

Martens said the office will update the page once more information about future programs is available, and if any changes to the currently listed programs occur, the office will list them on the website.

Logan Raschke can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].