Swarthmore Hosts Debating for Democracy Workshop for Student Activists

Jenny Akchin '10

Swarthmore Hosts Debating for
Democracy Workshop for Student Activists

by Jenny Akchin '10
10/02/2008

Debating for Democracy

Jose Aleman '09 (right) is an honors political science major from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Last Saturday, 16 Swarthmore students joined more than 30 students from Ursinus College, Widener University, and St. Mary's College of Maryland in a one-day campus workshop, "D4D on the Road." Debating for Democracy is a program coordinated through Project Pericles and is designed to help student activists develop the skills they need to better communicate about the issues that concern them.

"It's very action oriented," says Jennifer Magee, associate director of student programs at the Lang Center. "Today we moved beyond talking about activism. We engaged in practical, experiential learning - what you learn here can be applied to the world outside, be it in a student group, an activist cause, or just being a motivated citizen."

Maria Alejandra Rodriguez '12, from Surco, Peru, agreed. "It's really great because the role playing activities give you insight into how reality actually works," she says. "I'm very interested in activism, but I'm a beginner. Going to a full-day event like this was really helpful."

Swarthmore is a charter member of Project Pericles, a national organization of colleges and universities founded by Eugene Lang '38 that is committed to making socially responsible and participatory citizenship an essential part of their educational program - in the classroom, on the campus, and in the community. In April, Project Pericles held the first Debating for Democracy conference, which brought together 41 students from 21 college campuses for a weekend of intensive advocacy training workshops. The conference was so successful that Project Pericles began to look for a way to expand its reach to more students, ultimately deciding on a one-day, traveling advocacy workshop - D4D on the Road.

The workshop's activities, led by Christopher Kush of Washington D.C.-based Soapbox Consulting,  taught students how to write letters to political leaders, analyze and debate about political issues, and work with the news media.   They were very hands-on, requiring students to step into roles as activists and lobbyists. At its conclusion, students reflected on how to apply what they had learned on their respective campuses and each received a copy of Kush's The One-Hour Activist.