Until recently, Research University had a small culture of marches, protests, and other free speech actions. However, police involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, followed by the 2016 summer of violence with the mass shooting in Orlando and more police-involved shootings in New York, Chicago, Minnesota, and Texas, dramatically changed the culture at Research University. During the 2016-17 academic year, Research University student organizations hosted more than 25 campus protests and demonstrations—relatively few compared to other institutions, but a large increase for our campus community. Even with wide-ranging topics -- from Black Lives Matter to Turning Point USA speakers and rallies from Donald Trump and Bill Clinton -- Research University experienced virtually no disruptions in service. Further, no events were curtailed and no police intervention was required. Why? Civil discourse.

Through the combination of activities, events, and programmatic efforts, Research University has built a culture that actively engages students in conversations around difficult topics, building an inclusive climate with an eye toward institutionalization. This focused case-study explores how one campus devised comprehensive strategies to address student engagement and direct that interest into the college, community, civic, and public arenas. Specifically, this manuscript will address three broad campus-level efforts around civil discourse, voter mobilization, and democratic educational initiatives.

This three-part model includes both short-term student programs and long-term best practices. Our civil discourse efforts illustrate that teaching students, within collegiate settings, to deliberate and debate important societal issues assists them in their identity development as well as connects them to their civic responsibilities. Civil dialogues teach our students how to constructively disagree, but also encourage valuable skill development such as listening, counterpoint development, and compromise.

The U.S. Census reports that less than 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds vote in national elections (File, 2017). By offering an assortment of programs and initiatives centered on student mobilization, our campus has seen an increase in voter registration and engagement in national elections (35% increase in the 2016 presidential election over the 2012 election) and student government voter turnout (155% increase), as well as the development of a branded campaign, whose student-created video had more than 18,000 hits in the first three months.

Lastly, Research University’s citizenship education efforts, including civic leadership programs, speakers, and a semester-long, co-curricular seminar called “Citizen U,” are designed to help students reflect on their role within an engaged democracy. We heed Barber’s (1992) encouragement to educate students in the “arts of democracy” and build on the long tradition of citizenship education so this practice is passed intentionally from one generation to the next.

Why do these efforts matter? A recent study supported by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation reported that engaged students continued as engaged young adults as far as 10 years from their graduation (Karriger et al, 2016). The study specifically cited high-impact practices that serve to train and sustain civic engagement. Ultimately, this paper highlights an evolving model of practice from one institution -- rooted in these high-impact practices -- from which student affairs educators can borrow and apply within their own campus context.