The terms civic learning, democratic engagement, community engagement, service learning, and community-based research and education are often used interchangeably, though each has its own specific connotations. Together the terms reference a set of practices intended to leverage the university’s unique position in society for positive ends in the campus community, local communities, the world at large, and in the individual lives of our students.
In their 2013 report Preparing Citizens the statewide Study Group on Civic Learning and Engagement provided the following definition:
Higher education institutions engender students’ civic learning— the knowledge, skills, values and competencies that citizens in a democracy need to carry out their civic responsibility—through participation in civic engagement, academic coursework, co-curricular activities and off-campus programming. Students should have an understanding of the United States, other world societies, and the relationship between these constituencies.2013 report Preparing Citizens the statewide Study Group on Civic Learning and Engagement
Civic engagement in higher education involves faculty, staff, and students in reciprocal partnerships with public, private and non-profit organizations in communities (local, regional, statewide, national, and global) to address critical social issues and align curriculum, scholarship, research and creative activity with the public good’ (p. 6).
These definitions are helpful insofar as they suggest the variety and complexity of the democratic practices that the Board of Higher Education policy on civic learning seeks to develop and sustain. There is a spectrum of practices and activities that range in their impacts from charity to transformation, from everyday activities that are the mainstay of community life to activities that define generations by the very gravity and magnitude of the commitment to address a societal issue.
Here at Westfield we recognize the spectrum of activities present in our clubs, staff activities and our academics. We appreciate the positive energies of volunteerism while emphasizing the power and necessity of social transformation and justice. In this sense, the WE initiative seeks to foster a brand of civic engagement that emphasizes the knowledge, skills, values and competencies that lead to critical, informed, and meaningful participation in democratic processes and positive social change.