NIU Integrates Civic Reflection into Campus Life

Oct 21 2013
CR discussion at NIU

Over the past two years, Northern Illinois University (NIU) in Dekalb, IL has built civic reflection into the life of the campus by training students, resident advisors, faculty and staff to facilitate reflective dialogues. Rather than creating stand-alone programs around civic reflection, NIU’s Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (OSEEL) has looked for opportunities to integrate the practice into “what’s already happening on campus,” explains OSEEL director Julia Spears.  

Such opportunities abound.  NIU has incorporated civic reflection discussions into the orientation of first-year students, a housing curriculum focused on service, partnerships with cultural centers such as the Latino Resource Center and the Center for Black Studies, the work of peer leaders in the Huskie Service Scholars program, and annual events such as Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and the MLK Week of Service. This year professors trained as facilitators are using civic reflection in UNIV 101: University Experience, a 12-week course designed to help first-year students navigate the life of a large university. Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith was selected as the Common Reading book for the 2013-14 academic year, and Patel will be giving a talk at NIU on October 29th.  Following his visit, Patel’s speech will be used as a launching point for civic reflection dialogues.

NIU was introduced to civic reflection in the fall of 2011, when Illinois Campus Compact sponsored a CCR facilitation training for community service directors.  Soon after, Julia Spears attended a CCR Train-the-Trainer workshop with her colleague Denise Rode, Director of Orientation and First-Year Experience at NIU, and they began training students, staff and faculty as civic reflection facilitators.

Lucero Martinez, a 2012 graduate of NIU, was trained as a facilitator in the spring of her senior year and became involved in organizing and leading dialogues during her first term as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.  She says of civic reflection, "It's a great way for students to reflect on the service they're doing on a more personal level.  At first it can be uncomfortable or awkward, because it's a different kind of discussion than you're used to.  But once you learn more and participate more, it helps you reflect on what you're doing and helps you connect with other students with similar interests."

“One thing we hear continually in feedback,” says Spears, “is that people appreciate a safe space to have an authentic dialogue, one where they don’t feel they have to have a ‘right’ answer.”  She estimates that over the past year, more than a thousand members of the campus community have been involved in at least one civic reflection discussion. 

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