Sarah Loge, Spring Hill College
An area of increasing prominence in the field of student affairs is civic engagement, which encompasses several different areas of focus. According to the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) (2004), civic engagement encompasses the following areas: “a sense of civic responsibility, [a] commitment to public life through communities of practice, [the ability to] engage in principled dissent [and being] effective in leadership” (p. 21). Civic engagement can also be defined as “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes” (Ehrlich, 2000, p. vi).
For student affairs professionals, this means getting students involved in the community and in community processes. Civic engagement is valuable for students, because it allows them to gain a better understanding of community processes as well as develop leadership skills. It is also valuable for the community because of the partnership that is created (Stoecker & Beckman, 2009).
Knowing that civic engagement is a value-added experience for college students makes it important for professionals working in fraternity/sorority life. The benefit for working with fraternities and sororities in the area of civic engagement is that fraternities and sororities value many similar concepts (Matthews et al., 2009). Civic engagement is manifested in the service projects chapters expect of members, the executive and judicial boards that serve as leadership venues for chapter and council members, the community education that is constantly occurring, and the political involvement in which members participate. Advisors can see this occurring when they track service hours for chapters and advise executive and judicial boards. It is also evident in annual community service and educational programs such as “Breast Cancer Awareness Week,” “Hazing Prevention Week,” or “Alcohol Awareness Week” on a fraternity/sorority life calendar. It is also common to see students becoming involved in political matters that affect the fraternity/sorority community. Recent examples of this include involvement with lobbying for the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act and taking a stand against hazing in sports.
It is clear that this is an area in which fraternity/sorority members are participating, but what does this mean for advisors? How can fraternity/sorority professionals promote civic engagement with the students they advise? To determine ways that civic engagement can be promoted, look at the definition and evaluate what students are already doing to understand areas that could be improved.
One way that advisors can work to promote civic engagement is to develop quality leadership education programs. It is common knowledge that fraternities and sororities offer valuable leadership experiences, but purposeful education about leadership will make these programs even more beneficial for students. Many campuses and fraternal organizations offer education through events such as new member workshops, emerging leader retreats, and retreats for chapter and council leadership. Another common way to promote civic engagement is to connect students with service opportunities through local organizations and create the opportunity to reflect on experiences afterwards. Whether this is done through a large-scale, community-wide service project, or through smaller individual connections, students will be able to learn about the community where they live.
How can the benefits from civic engagement be assessed? Assessment is often a challenge for advisors. One way to assess this engagement is through accreditation or standards programs that determine if chapters are meeting expectations. A great example of this can be found in Assessment Tools for Daily Practice (Jahansouz & Miranda Smalls, 2007). Asking students to document or narrate how their experiences benefit their membership requires the higher-level thinking that allows advisors to obtain knowledge of positive benefits. The benefits of engagement can also be measured through one-on-one meetings with students (Jahansouz, & Miranda Smalls, 2007). Assessment can occur as advisors ask students what they have gained from their civic engagement experiences and how that relates to the values of their organization. Having students explain and relate experiences to organizational values allows advisors to understand where students are within cognitive development models such as Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). It is important that students are not only participating in civic engagement and being offered experiences that promote it, but are also being measured in their growth in this important developmental area.
American College Personnel Association & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Retrieved from http://www.myacpa.org/pub/documents/LearningReconsidered.pdf
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition. New York, NY: Longman.
Ehrlich, T. (2000). Civic responsibility and higher education. Westport, CT: The Oryx Press.
Jahansouz, S., & Miranda Smalls, M. (2007). Assessment tools for daily practice: A resource guide for the members of the Association of Fraternity Advisors. Retrieved from http://www.fraternityadvisors.org/Default.aspx?action=ViewFile&file=Assessment_Tools.pdf
Matthews, H., Featherstone, L., Bluder, L., Gerling, A. J., Loge, S., & Messenger, R. B. (2009). Living in your letters: Assessing congruence between espoused and enacted values of one fraternity/sorority community. Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity Advisors, 4(1), 29-41.
Stoecker, R., & Bechman, M. (2009). Making higher education civic engagement matter in the community. Retrieved from http://www.compact.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Making-Higher-Ed-Work.pdf