Learning Living Democracy

By Katherine Harding, Office of Communications and Marketing



Auburn University students in the College of Liberal Arts will get hands-on experience with community activism and engagement this summer through the Living Democracy project.

Launched in 2011, the yearlong project brings together students and citizens to collaborate on issues of concern to participating Alabama communities. Bayou La Batre, Selma/Cahawba, Elba, Hobson City, Linden, Marion and Valley are participating in the inaugural year. The project results from a College of Liberal Arts' collaboration with the Kettering Foundation to explore the role of higher education in preparing citizens for public life.

After a year of instruction in the classroom and conversations with partners, the students will spend the 10 weeks of the summer semester immersed in the community and executing their collaborative project.
"The goal is to make political engagement the focus of a sustained experience rooted in the curriculum," Derek Barker, the project's Kettering Foundation program officer, said.

The Living Democracy students this year are Angela Cleary, Mary Afton Day, Blake Evans, Andrew Odom, Marian Royston and Alexis Sankey.

The projects they are working on range from building a public walking track to instituting a summer arts program for children. The overall goal of the project is to get people in the community to collaborate. The projects are meant to last year after year, which can be a course of pride for the community.

"Living Democracy is an experience, an all-encompassing, deep, satisfying way to live to create change: change in oneself and in communities. The hands-on aspect, what we like to call community engagement, is what really hooked me to be a part of this amazing project," said student Mary Afton Day, who will be working in Marion, Ala., this summer.

Student Angela Cleary, who will be in Bayou La Batre, said, "I know my interests in community and civic engagement, when mixed with a little bit of hope and hard work of the community, will grow into something bigger and better than we can imagine."

Planning in a classroom and actual implementation are completely different experiences. Planning has involved talking with local citizens, studying effective programs elsewhere and making a schedule for implementation. The summer will be when the plan is put into motion.

Andrew Odom, who will be in Selma/Cahawba, said, "The biggest challenge is time. I will have to have a clear plan and make sure the right people are on board before I get there."

The students are not alone for this venture. They have been communicating and working with leaders in each community during the school year. The students are led by Nan Fairley, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts Engaged Scholar, and Mark Wilson, Community and Civic Engagement coordinator.

"This program is a trailblazer," said Wilson. "The immersion in the community and the deeper connections where students are working with and not 'working for' the community are important."

Marian Royston, who will be living and working in Hobson City, agrees.

"For me, Living Democracy is an exercise in community-level democracy," she said. "In the end, students should gain a greater understanding of the methods through which progress is made in communities."

For more information, go to http://www.auburn.edu/livingdemocracy.

Last Updated: Apr. 27, 2012

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