Newman Civic Fellows Conference

Katherine Watson, Alverno College, recently attended the 2017 NCF Conference in Boston:

On November 17th and 18th 2017, approximately 180 college students from across the country attended the 2017 Newman Civic Fellows National Conference at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. As this year’s Newman Civic Fellow from Alverno College, I was fortunate enough to be one of them. Through our discussions with each other and the activities organized by Campus Compact, we as fellows shared our passions for social and political issues, the ways in which we work to promote civic engagement, and our hopes for the future of our communities and our nation. Attending the conference was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am extremely honored and grateful that I was able to experience and learn from it.
The conference began on Friday afternoon with opening remarks by Campus Compact President Dr. Andrew Seligsohn on the importance of Newman fellows’ work in the current political climate. Next, fellows rotated between three sessions: a tour of the institute, an asset mapping activity, and a workshop on political empathy. The last of those was my personal favorite, as it sparked a lively conversation between myself and several other fellows on the Confederate Monument Removal Act, racism, the media, and partisanship. In the evening, we listened to a Public Problem Solvers panel discussion with Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción CEO Vanessa Calderón-Rosado; Health Law Advocates Executive Director Matt Selig; and Adam J. Foss, founder of Prosecutor Impact. The three discussed their professional backgrounds and the rewards and challenges they face as activists. The night ended with a networking reception, where fellows had the opportunity to connect and discuss the day’s events.
On Saturday, fellows were divided into groups to rotate between two activities. My group first attended the TEDx Beacon Street event being held at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, and we watched a session entitled “Intimate Truths: Confronting Our Private Biases and Barriers.” Though all the speeches we heard were thought-provoking, for me, the highlights of our session were a speech by Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who was voted out of his seat after supporting climate change legislation, and an interview with Mike Dubke, a former White House Communications Director for the Trump administration. I was inspired by Inglis’s willingness to stand up for his beliefs despite the personal consequences he faced for doing so, and it was refreshing to share common ground with someone from another side of the political spectrum. I was also fascinated by Dubke’s perspective as a former White House insider who has a complicated relationship with the administration.
In the afternoon, my group took part in the Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s one-of-a-kind Senate Immersion Module, a guided simulation of the legislative process which takes place in a full-scale model of the Senate Chamber. Taking on the roles of Senators, we drafted, debated, and ultimately passed a mock farm bill. The simulation gave me a greater appreciation for the difficulty of congresspeople’s jobs; balancing personal beliefs, constituents’ interests, lobbyists’ causes, reelection concerns, and party allegiances is not easy, particularly in today’s divisive climate. I also left the simulation impressed with my peers, who worked hard to defend the interests of their assumed identities while also working to compromise and promote unity. With that attitude, I feel confident that we can be effective changemakers in our communities.
Saturday’s wrap-up session served as an opportunity to reflect on our experiences at the conference and what we hope to accomplish in the future. Each of the fellows who spoke voiced a similar message, and I think it’s safe to say we all felt the same: a sense of appreciation for being able to spend time with a group of people with a shared passion for activism and leadership, as well as a desire to continue to work together as fellows. Business cards and email addresses were exchanged, for purposes as diverse as forming a think tank or political action committee to providing the emotional support being an activist requires.
I arrived at the Newman Civic Fellows National Conference feeling nervous and alone, but as soon as I started talking to the other fellows, those feelings disappeared. Being around people who shared my enthusiasm for politics and activism was something I had never experienced, and it was amazing to share that kind of immediate, deep connection with people I had never met before. I left the conference with new friends, future collaborators, and something I hadn’t felt in a while: hope.