A Focus on Civic Engagement
By David Ogul
Talk about going above and beyond. A pair of Cal State San Marcos anthropology students who served as note takers during focus group discussions in creating a new Civic Action Plan at CSUSM took the initiative to author a separate analysis investigating the challenges of bringing divergent groups together to talk about the subject. Their report was presented April 29 at a Southern CSU Wide Association for Student Anthropologists Conference in Los Angeles.
“It was a great experience,” said Cynthia Ortega, who graduates May 19 and is planning to attend graduate school after spending a year engaging in volunteer work overseas. “It offered a good opportunity to see how focus groups, the interviewing process and research can mesh to lead to an action plan. It was a good example of real-world applications for anthropology.”
The research has its roots in CSUSM President Karen Haynes signing the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement of Presidents and Chancellors in March 2016. The Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities committed to building democracy through civic education and community development. Signing the statement signified CSUSM’s recommitment to the values of civic engagement and to activities in service of the public good, said Dr. Laurette McGuire, Faculty Director for CSUSM’s Civic Learning, Division of Community Engagement, who also serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology.
Signing the statement also obligated CSUSM to write and publish a Campus Civic Action Plan to outline how the university will achieve its civic engagement goals.
In the process of creating the Campus Civic Action Plan, six focus group sessions – involving deans, administrators, faculty, staff, students, community partners and alumni – were conducted in January and February. Note takers were needed, and McGuire turned to Ortega and Jacob Bowen, another graduating Anthropology student.
“Cynthia and Jacob are great students, which is why I asked if they would be willing to help,” McGuire said.
But Bowen and Ortega did more than just take notes. They analyzed what they found regarding discussion dynamics and wrote an eight-page study covering topics that included how seating arrangements impacted participants in the room.
“We also found a lot of disconnects between student groups in different colleges and dean groups in different colleges,” Bowen said. “Disconnects matter because you end up having students competing against each other and deans competing against each other, rather than competing for each other. In other words, you’re basically creating silos.”
States the paper, titled Understanding What Shapes the Civic Citizen: Campus Compact Data Analysis at CSUSM: “Findings indicate that something as simple as changing our conversations to be more inclusive and sympathetic towards one another can create stronger bonds within the campus and with the local community,”
When Bowen and Ortega learned about the Southern CSU Wide Association for Student Anthropologists Conference at Cal State Los Angeles, they submitted an abstract of their work and were invited to take part in the gathering. The conference was organized by the California State University, Los Angeles, Association for Student Anthropologists and invited undergraduate and graduate students to submit abstracts for presentations concerning the theme of Local Engagement. The conference included research concerning all types of local engagement, such as community-based learning, social activism and political engagement.
And what about the Campus Civic Action Plan? A draft is being reviewed by the Academic Senate and other groups. A final action plan on civic engagement at CSUSM will be submitted by June 30.
“Community engagement is one of the great things about Cal State San Marcos, but there is always room for improvement,” McGuire said.