Citizenship: From class to community

Alessandra Beasley Von Burg: Taking citizenship from the theoretical to the practical.

Students in Alessandra Beasley Von Burg’s communications class are putting what they’ve learned in the classroom about citizenship into action with a symposium today on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. The symposium is taking place in the Annenberg Forum in Carswell Hall and is free and open to the public.

Citizenship isn’t just a philosophical concept to be studied in the classroom, but something to be lived everyday to better one’s community, said Von Burg, an assistant professor of communication. “In the class, we discuss the theoretical aspects — the writings of Plato and Aristotle, for example — of citizenship. The students sometimes think that’s idealistic and doesn’t apply to their lives. This (symposium) shows how citizenship impacts their lives everyday,” she said.

Schedule: “Rights and Responsibilities: Symposium on Citizenship”

The symposium begins at 11 a.m. with a panel discussion featuring leaders of the local interfaith community organization CHANGE. At 1:30 p.m., a panel of scholars and students will examine citizenship and the rights of others.

At 3 p.m., Wajahat Ali, author of “Domestic Crusaders” and associate editor of Altmuslim, and English professor Dean Franco will join students to discuss citizenship and Islam. At 4:30 p.m., leaders of the local non-for-profit Southside Rides and a member of the Winston-Salem Police Department will discuss the organization’s mission to provide training in automotive mechanics to at-risk youth.

The program concludes at 7 p.m. with students from Paisley Magnet School debating whether the U.S. military should use private contractors in wartime. Senior David Tokarz, a member of Von Burg’s class, and members of the Wake Forest debate team have been working with the Paisley students to prepare them for the debate.

This is the fourth year that Von Burg has included a symposium as part of her “Practice of Citizenship” class. Planning for the symposium begins early in the semester as Von Burg and her students discuss ideas for panel discussions, invite speakers, and solicit academic papers addressing certain aspects of citizenship.

Every student in the class has a role in the symposium, from participating on or moderating panel discussions, designing the conference website, inviting speakers or handling logistics. Nathan Bedsole, a senior communication major from Wilmington, N.C., said planning the symposium helped him better understand his obligations as a citizen. “It’s changed my focus from being a member of the community to what my responsibilities are to the community.”

Von Burg said she hopes students will learn to discover and pursue issues that they are passionate about long after they leave her class. “As citizens themselves, one of the skills they need is to bring together people or be able to organize an event to address the issues that they care about,” she said.

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