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“Universities as Sites of Citizenship”

Luis Ernesto Tipan, 2009,

In conjunction with fellow International Relations major Chelsea Germak, I have been working as a research intern since last spring term 2008 on a project, Universities as Sites of Citizenship (USC), a multinational research project that covers 20 countries. This project is run under the auspices of the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy; a global research network to support development of democratic societies through educational mission and structure. The USC project is being administered in the U.S. at the University of Pennsylvania and has been funded in part in the past by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Council of Europe’s Committee on Higher Education and Research. I received added financial assistance from the Gutmann-Doyle Research Opportunities Fund.

The goal of this project is to document and advance the contributions of colleges and universities to democracy education, civic engagement and the promotion of citizenship and civic values on campus and in the local communities. The project is designed to be replicated in any country whereby researcher(s) survey and report on the situation on individual campuses and the data is aggregated at the national and international levels.

In exporting the project to Mexico, we conducted a cross-national comparative statistical study of Mexican universities and colleges as socializing agents for democratic values and civic engagement. These institutions are of great importance in the advancement of civil society due to their access to Mexico’s main political leadership strata and their central role in the lives of today’s youth. Therefore, we analyze the mechanisms these institutions employ to promote teaching and research in the areas of civic engagement, democracy, human rights, and other various aspects of civil society and political participation. Ultimately, we determine the best methods of utilizing these institutions’ resources to encourage democratic principles and instill civic responsibility in their students.

This Winter break Chelsea and I traveled to Mexico. Our trip was successful in establishing relationships with private organizations, introducing our project to four universities, collecting printed material that describe the universities, and identifying student groups and faculty who can administer our surveys and provide us more information about university activities. Our meeting with Alfonsina Penalosa, assistant manager at Fundación Ethos, regarded the role this Think Tank can play in exporting our project to Mexico by serving as the project’s research hub. Fundacion Ethos is working to arrange an informative symposium for all collaborating researches involved in this Project.

On Ms. Penalosa’s recommendation, we met with Jeffrey Weldon, Director of the International Relations Program at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM). Our initial assessment is that ITAM would be a great addition to our university list due to the high volume of activity on campus and its inclination to hosting inter-institutional events.

El Colegio de Mexico (COLMEX) is another university that we visited. We compiled printed material and met with Professor Lorenzo Meyer, recognized as the foremost historian and political scientist in Mexico. Dr. Meyer gave us very helpful information on the university, such as the majority of the students are enrolled in the graduate programs and there are no established student organizations—university characteristics that would add great diversity to our survey sample.

A third university, Universidad Veracruzana (UV) of Xalapa, also seems very promising. The Director of Humanities, Dr. Maria Magdalena Hdez Alarcon, gave us further information on a UV group we had previously identified, la Defensoría de los Derechos, which investigates student rights infringements.

We also contacted Dra. Lourdes Morales, current director of the pro-democratic organization Alianza Cívica. Because Alianza Civica often works with themes such as civic participation and have many university contacts, we believe the organization could greatly support our efforts.

This project allows Ms. Germak and I to do our own independent research project and produce a paper that we have accepted at the Midwest Political Science Association annual national conference in April 2009. As a consequence of our earlier work in compiling a master list of Mexican universities to help us draw our sample, we have a chance to also produce a spin-off publication of a directory of Mexican higher education. There is also a larger impact of the opportunity for participating universities becoming incented to join the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy. So this research has potentially two additional products besides our research paper(s).

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