The Office of Civic Engagement held their first ever “Dialogue” event
“Civic Engagement: A Dialogue” was held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 5 in the Roberta Steinbacher Atrium at Cleveland State University. The collaborative event between The Office of Civic Engagement and The League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland was intended to encourage conversations between the community and local government leaders and activists.
The 45 participants, facilitators, and hosts broke out into smaller groups to discuss one of five issues: transportation, education, health care, housing, and reproductive rights. If someone was uncomfortable with or felt drawn to a different topic, they were encouraged to switch groups.
The event’s goal was to “bridge the gap” between voting and being civically engaged, Catherine Ryan, who volunteers as the service director for The League, said.
“In order to know what it is you can do or how to take action, you need to educate yourself,” Ryan said. “This is a different format, a different way of educating yourself. It gives you a unique opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with local officials, and that gives you a new perspective.”
Each group was tasked with identifying actions to take in support of their issue, understanding what role local government plays in the issue, and how to work with local government. Facilitators had flip charts where participants placed sticky notes addressing different aspects of the issue, and then the group discussed the notes in further detail. It was ok to disagree, express your opinion, and ask questions but interrupting, personal attacks, and name-calling were discouraged.
At the end of the 30-minute discussion, facilitators went around the room and shared the highlights of their group’s conversation. Facilitators included Cleveland City Councilperson Kevin L. Bishop, Cleveland’s Chief Strategy Officer Bradford J. Davy, Senior Strategist for Cleveland VOTES Lique Gates, Cleveland City Councilperson Kris Harsh, Cuyahoga County Councilperson Sunny Simon, Cuyahoga County Judge Wanda Jones, and Communications and Narrative Strategist for Cleveland VOTES Brianna Zgodinski.
“Our policy people like our civic leaders, are they approachable? Can we connect with them? Do they want to hear from students?” Anita Ruf-Young, director of the office of civic engagement, said. “And obviously, by the amazing number that agreed to come and give up their Wednesday night after a full day of work, obviously they want to engage.”
The civic engagement office has successfully recruited 89% of Cleveland State students registered to vote by partnering with voter outreach programs like the North East Ohio Voter Advocates and the League of Women Voters and putting civic engagement curriculums into the first-year experience. Now, through events like “A Dialogue,” they aim to help students identify actions they can take in support of issues important to them, understand what role local government plays in those issues and how to work with local government by connecting them to local leaders.
The event went beyond learning and civic engagement. It allowed the Cleveland State community to network over food provided by the Viking Food Co. Civic leaders welcomed students to their offices or courtrooms and shared their contact information for future connection.
“There’s different levels and complications that people are like, ‘Why is this going on?’ but when you realize how complicated and bureaucratic some of these issues can be,” Ruf-Young said. “It’s not just something that goes into a little tagline that we hear on the news or headline you hear, no there’s a lot more that goes into changing something, and you have to be invested, and this was the first step toward investment.”