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VanCoug American Democracy Project helps students get involved politically

The VanCoug American Democracy Project of Washington State University Vancouver is a branch of the American Democracy Project, a multi-campus initiative that helps students in higher education get more involved politically and is partnered with The New York Times. The American Democracy Project started in 2003 as an initiative of the American Associated State Colleges & Universities. The VADP is a branch of the American Democracy Project that was started in 2012 by Mel Netzhammer, chancellor of WSU Vancouver.

The VADP works to get students, especially students in higher education, involved in both the democratic process and civic engagements. Bailey Noell, president of the VanCoug American Democracy Project, said, “One of the main things we like to focus on is civil discourse, getting people talking about the issues going on. Not only community-wide, but nationwide and internationally. Things that are important to the democratic process.”

Noell said that organization is a more accurate way to describe them than club since they do not hold meetings. She also uses the term “initiative,” since the VADP initiates students into getting involved. As with most clubs and organizations on the WSU Vancouver campus, more information about the VanCoug American Democracy Project can be found on CougSync. Noell also said, “People try to get out and do something. It’s not really something that people belong to per se, you can become a member and be involved in it, but it’s not like we’re an actual club.”

Although the VADP does not have scheduled meetings, the initiative does host various events on campus. The initiative regularly recruits volunteers to help out with the events. One of the events that the initiative frequently hosts is the Engage-In event. Engage-In is an event that happens once every semester and is typically held in the Firstenburg Student Commons. The event typically lasts for two hours and covers a certain topic that is considered important in relation to civic discourse. In Nov. 2013 during the public affairs series, the public issue that was featured was sex trafficking. Noell also said that another issue that was featured in the Engage-In event was gender inequality in the workplace, which was created to bring awareness to the wage gap between males and females. Noell also said that during Engage-Ins, the VADP teaches people how to properly communicate with the state legislators, and they also teach students how to “use their voice to make public policy change.” During these Engage-In events, the initiative also invites Carolyn Long, associate professor of the school of politics and public affairs, to be the guest speaker. For this fall semester, the Engage-In will be on Oct. 9 and the featured topic is disability awareness.

In addition to the Engage-In, the VADP also recently hosted Constitution Day, an annual event that happens every Sept. 17. During Constitution Day, free copies of the constitution are handed out to students. Along with handing out free Constitutions, the VADP gave out free cupcakes to students who stop by. While the Engage-In celebration is usually in the Firstenburg Student Commons, the VADP takes a more relaxed approach and tables out in the quad for Constitution Day. To further educate students about the constitution, the VADP often invites a “constitutional expert” to help answer questions a student may have.

When asked why students should get involved with the VanCoug American Democracy Project, Noell said it’s important for students to be aware of what’s going on around them. Noell also said that the initiative helps students who have not already done so register to vote, and to learn how to properly voice their civic and political opinions. “The democratic process can get overwhelming and confusing at times but the more you know about it, the better prepared you are to function inside of it.” Noell said.

Students interested in becoming part of the VanCoug American Democracy Project can contact the initiative by e-mail at wsuvadp@gmail.com, or contact the initiative’s adviser, Dana Lee Baker, at bakerdl@vancouver.wsu.edu. For those who wish to follow the VADP’s activities via social media, they can be found on Twitter at: twitter.com/VanCougADP. The VADP can also be found on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/VanCougDemocracyProject.

Photo features WSU Vancouver students handing out free constitutions by Teresa Hoyt

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