BU summit starts to teach civic engagement

Civic Life Summit registration is now open. The summit will take place at the Mayborn museum. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Megan Rule | Staff Writer

Registration is now open for the Baylor Public Deliberation Initiative Civic Life Summit this summer, the first of its kind, in order to improve civic engagement and teach different ways to work together.

“We try to teach different ways to have conversations, different ways to deliberate together, different ways to have dialogue together and different ways to take community action together,” Dr. Joshua Ritter, assistant director of the department of formation in the Office of Spiritual Life, said. “We do this recognizing everyone has significant differences and recognizing that everyone’s identity is really important but at the same time coming together to accomplish something for the common good.”

The summit will feature various speakers and break-out sessions lead by community and church leaders all with the same goal in mind: to help participants walk away with new skills to implement in the community. Speakers include Ashley Bean Thornton, director for informed engagement at Baylor, former Rep. Chet Edwards, Dr. Martin Carcasson, professor in the Communication Studies department of Colorado State University, Gaynor I. Yancey, Baylor professor of social work, Cheryl Miller, executive director of Perpetual Help Home in Victoria and Jasmine Wilson, assistant director for resident learning at Baylor. All the speeches and sessions will offer models of civic engagement to emphasize.

“We’re hoping in the breakout sessions that not only will the facilitators be able to present the idea, but the participants will also be able to take part in it,” Ritter said. “It’s very hands-on. We’re trying for the summit to be very tangible, hands-on and skill-oriented, so you go to the summit, and you walk away with a very specific set of skills you can implement in the community.”

Thornton will be giving the opening keynote speech at the Civic Life Summit. Since the 1960s, in the nation as a whole, civic engagement has dropped, Thornton said. Along with that comes a decline in skills to have productive conversations, Thorton said. Thornton found this trend fascinating to look into and was drawn to the Baylor Public Deliberation Initiative and its mission with this summit. Although her speech is not yet finalized, she said she plans to talk about crossing the bridge from being a consumer of the community to being a creator of the community.

“I think the opportunity to meet other people in town will be interesting,” Thornton said. “I hope to exchange ideas with them and build a little momentum in town and look forward to talking about how we re-engage people in civic engagement and re-skill in those skills we need to do that effectively.”

The Baylor Public Deliberation Initiative invites the Baylor community to participate in forums about issues in order to understand the perspectives, possible outcomes and trade-offs of different options in engaging in deliberation, according to the website. It aims to promote civic literacy, active listening and humility as well as offer an experience for people to be able to converse and argue in an acceptable manner, according to the website.

The summit will take place June 1 and 2 at the Mayborn Museum Complex. The registration fee is $95 and includes meals, but Ritter said there are options if money is an issue because he doesn’t want that to be the barrier preventing anyone from attending. Registration is open until May 15. The Civic Life Summit is sponsored by the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, Community Engagement and Service, W. R. Poage Legislative Library, Baylor Spiritual Life, Baylor Formation and Baylor Missions and the Campus Diversity Committee.

“I think it’s going to be really neat to see all the different people who come together,” Ritter said. “I think it’s going to be a really great networking time as well. I think people are going to be able to make new friendships and new partnerships.”