By Sarah Sousa
FSU held workshops designed to start conversations and promote education about the Constitution on Sept. 18 to celebrate Constitution Day.
Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said though the University is mandated to provide Constitutional education because of federal funding, it is still important to have conversations about the Constitution.
“It is how we are governed and it is our history,” said Vaden-Goad.
She added sometimes, people are influenced by what they hear and the opinions of others, so it is important for them to understand the issues for themselves.
“Being educated more and more on the Constitution keeps you from being more easily persuaded to believe something when it may not be true,” Vaden-Goad said.
She noted with the presence of technology, information is in the palms of our hands. However, the quality of the information may be skewed, so it is important to learn and gain valid knowledge.
This year, she said she wanted people “to dig in” to the Constitution.
This is the first year the University has provided workshops conducted by faculty for students to have discussions about the particulars of the Constitution and how it’s evolving, said Vaden-Goad.
John Ambacher, political science professor, came up with the idea to conduct workshops in which students could have focused discussions about aspects of the Constitution, according to Vaden-Goad.
She added, “The goal was to take a deeper view of things and get everyone talking.”
She said she wanted everyone to be able to come together to hear the presentation by Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Vaden-Goad said, “We wanted to provide for our community a more interesting, deeper look at the Constitution. ... We want to build an educated community.”
The University is at the start of a new five-year strategic plan focused on community engagement. The Constitution Day events helped provide a place for those outside of the University’s community to become engaged, said Vaden-Goad.
“I think disagreement and challenging each other is a normal part of growing and learning, but if it is not done respectfully, you can’t really hear the other person,” said Vaden-Goad.
She said she hopes the institution continues to grow as a “learning community. I’m hoping that every year, we could do more.”
Ambacher’s workshop concerned equality. He said, “The goal of the exercise I ran with the students was to point out that as much as we are committed to the goal of equality, it has remained more of an illusion than a reality.”
He added upward mobility is not as attainable as it may seem.
“Hopefully, the exercise indicated that inequality in America is not a question of the success or failure based on individual behavior, but rather the implementation of political programs that have favored the wealthy at the expense of middle- and lower-class Americans,” said Ambacher.
Joseph Adelman, history professor, held a workshop regarding the First amendment and freedom of the press.
He said his workshop was intended to show attendees how the way the Constitution is interpreted changes and how there is no perfect way to understand the First Amendment.
“We are all engaged in civil society and we should do that from a place of more knowledge,” Adelman added. “The politics of 2017 have highlighted the political urgency of the state of the Constitution.”
Senior Jackie Salvas, who attended the First Amendment workshop, said it is good to have these types of conversations because “America is getting so political, so it’s good to go back to the beginning.”
She added it is important to know what the words of the Constitution actually mean because it’s a big part of freedom in the United States.
Junior Valerie Higgins said conversations about the Constitution are important because “in order to have a public debate, you need to know what you’re talking about.
“It is a really unique time in history where public debate is big,” she said.
History professors Maria Bollettino and Bridgette Sheridan conducted a workshop about the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Bollettino said, “Many of the recent debates regarding freedom of speech that have garnered national attention have grown out of events on college campuses, including, for instance, discussions concerning how best to respond when university groups invite controversial speakers to speak on campus.”
She added, “Dr. Sheridan and I wanted to provide the members of the FSU community with a place to share ideas concerning this fundamental constitutional right, how debates over its limits have played out in history and how they are playing out today.”
“Education makes you no longer able to say, ‘OK, I think I understand all of that,’” said Vaden-Goad. She wants students to have learned something from the Constitution Day events, but she also wants them to understand there is so much more to learn and know.