For a week this fall, the CUI campus took time to celebrate the U.S. Constitution.
“The U.S. Constitution is so important to our country, but many don’t know anything about it,” says co-organizer Ryan Jones, ASCUI president and a senior going into Lutheran elementary education. “How do we get college-age people to want to learn more about it and say, ‘This matters — this is what we’re founded on’?”
The driver behind the week-long celebration of America’s founding document was Jo Ellen Chatham, director of the Center for Civics Education at CUI. Under her leadership, the Center is educating people about citizenship and the founding principles of our country.
“Civic literacy is really low in this country,” Chatham says. “Only eighteen percent of colleges and universities in America require even one course in American history or government to graduate. Our Center wants to promote effective citizenship and an understanding of our founding principles and how they operate today. We want to get students to engage with the Constitution.”
Constitution Week at Concordia Irvine “was a great success,” she says.
Students and faculty from the English department and the history and political thought department, plus members of student government and the veterans resource center, joined together to make it happen. At a table in front of the cafeteria, students invited their peers to take interactive quizzes about the Constitution and to take a free copy with them. One quiz informed students if their philosophical views aligned more with Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington or another Founding Father.
“The student-volunteers had a radiating, positive energy that attracted other students to come over,” Jones reported. “It was fun to see college students get excited about the Constitution.”
Framed founding documents were placed around campus for people to read and talk about. A George Washington look-alike, who is also an official historian from Mount Vernon, visited a class in full uniform and answered questions.
“It was remarkable,” Chatham says. “You almost felt like you were talking to the real George Washington.”
At a midweek convocation, the Honorable Andrew Guilford, a recently-retired federal court judge spoke on, “The rumors of the Constitution’s demise are greatly exaggerated,” with a question and answer session afterward.
“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land,” says Chatham. “Everything the government does is supposed to adhere to the Constitution. If the public doesn’t understand how their government works at the state, federal and local levels, how can they vote or get involved intelligently?”
Friday began with a public reading of portions of the Constitution. That night, ASCUI hosted a trivia night in Rho Commons, and served apple pie and cherry pie.
“I was surprised by the positive reactions I got and people’s willingness to want to learn more about the Constitution,” says Jones. “I figured college students would think it doesn’t affect them today, but so many said, ‘This is what we’re founded on and it makes up who I am and our past.’”
Organizers plan to expand the event next year.