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Launched in December, the University’s Engagement 2020 initiative (E2020) is expanding its programs this semester to promote political engagement with 15 new courses this semester. The initiative aims to advance student learning through civic participation and the University’s curriculum. 

E2020 will also continue to provide funding for student work over spring and summer breaks, with applications for Spring Break expenses due on Feb. 7. Wesleyan awarded over $20,000 to fund 18 students who were involved in civic engagement work over winter break, according to Director for the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships Clifton Watson. The students worked in diverse locations, ranging from Georgia to Alaska, on a variety of political issues.  

“Many students chose to work with organizations advocating for particular issues, including criminal justice reform, housing justice, reproductive rights, and immigration,” Watson wrote in an email to The Argus. “Others focused their efforts on voter engagement and registration.”

In order to expand E2020 beyond supporting students’ civic engagement work, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal led the effort to connect the initiative to various courses, according to Watson. 

As a result of that effort, various University departments, from Classical Civilization to German Studies, are offering 15 spring courses related to E2020. Visiting Professor of Public Policy and President of the University Network for Human Rights James Cavallaro, who is teaching “Human Rights and the 2020 Elections” (CSPL 397) this semester, believes that a direct connection to the 2020 elections would strengthen students’ interest in human rights.  

“This [course] developed towards the end of last year, after talking with Provost Rob Rosenthal,” Professor Cavallaro wrote in an email to The Argus. “He mentioned the initiative and I thought the elections—an issue that Wes students really care about—would be an ideal vehicle for enhancing understanding of human rights. And to get students to think about how human rights matter, profoundly, in our lives.” 

Other courses that have been continuously taught at the University have now been connected to the E2020 initiative. Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Makaela Kingsley, who has taught “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship” (CSPL 262) for the past four years, tied the course to E2020 this semester by modifying course material. 

“Although I developed the course four years ago, I was able to tie it to E2020 this semester by adjusting the problem that students in the course will study and seek solutions for,” Kingsley wrote in an email to The Argus. “Instead of the topic we have used in the past (stress and anxiety among college students), we will use voter engagement (e.g. voter fraud, voter disenfranchisement, election infrastructure, media bias, etc.).” 

Through connections to courses like CSPL 262 and CSPL 397, the E2020 initiative allows students to learn civic engagement skills and then apply them to experiences outside of the classroom. 

“E2020 gives students an opportunity to meaningfully lace together academic and experiential learning–to connect theory and practice,” Kingsley wrote. 

Professor Cavallaro echoed the importance of the connection between academic study and real-world applications by students.

“I think it offers the opportunity to take advantage of the vibrancy and dynamism of the academic community at Wesleyan and apply those intellectual resources to issues that really matter—the 2020 Elections,” Cavallaro wrote. “This is a remarkable opportunity to participate—thoughtfully, critically—in an election that is likely to reconfigure our society and world for decades to come. And it’s the opportunity to engage armed with information, understanding, analysis and passion.”


Jiyu Shin can be reached at jshin01@wesleyan.edu. 

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