Congress to Campus Fosters Civil Communication, Engagement and Literacy

U.S. Capitol building with colorful sunset behind it

Western Oregon University Professor Mary Pettenger and Assistant Professor Earlene Camarillo believe the connections each of us makes with people who have different perspectives and opinions allow us to learn and grow as a community.

That’s why Camarillo and Pettenger, who both teach in the Politics, Policy and Administration department, collaborated to bring Congress to Campus Feb. 11 to 13. The program provides opportunities to educate the next generation about American government, politics and public affairs.

“WOU is lucky to have been selected to be a participant school in Congress to Campus as it is an opportunity for us all to learn more and to begin the process of developing our civic literacy and civic engagement and to take advantage of the chance to meet the representatives and learn more,” Camarillo said.

Man by American flag
Former U.S. House Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) will discuss the value of public service at WOU’s Congress to Campus event.

Former U.S. House Reps. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) and Rod Chandler (R-Wash.) will share how the U.S. Congress functions, promote bipartisanship and discuss the value of public service at WOU’s Congress to Campus event.

“We regularly hear that people are turned off by modern politics and therefore, disengage from all political discussions,” Pettenger said. “We hope this program will encourage more engagement and dialog and shine some light on the many bipartisan activities that take place within our political institutions on a regular basis.”

Chandler participates in Congress to Campus because he wants to encourage young people to pay more attention to their government and to be more knowledgeable about it.

“As a student at Oregon State University, I had the privilege of meeting with a number of political leaders including Sen. Mark Hatfield, Sen. Maureen Neuberger, Gov. Tom McCall and legislators,” Chandler said. “I was inspired by them to consider public service. I hope that I might be the same inspiration for some young person.”

Chandler wants citizens to witness two former Congress members, each with strongly held and often differing views discuss issues and still get along.

“I am greatly concerned that the ballooning national debt will bring our great country’s economy crashing in a few years. The president, leaders in Congress and every member need to put aside the divisive rhetoric and get at making the excruciatingly difficult decisions needed to restore fiscal sanity,” he said. “We need to stop demonizing one another simply because we don’t agree.”

WOU seniors Rachel Bayly and Jennifer Romadka; juniors Brian Ulbricht, KJ Smith and NJ Johnson; and sophomore Elizabeth Braatz are serving as student-ambassadors for Congress to Campus.

“Volunteering for this event is a chance to learn from former members of Congress who represented other states and realize that bipartisanship still occurs in public service,” Ulbricht said.

Braatz said the mainstream media primarily project politics and politicians in a way that will result in the most drama or

Man by an American flag
Former U.S. House Rep. Rod Chandler (R-Wash.) will speak at WOU’s Congress to Campus event.

negative discussion.

“In our current political climate, it is easy to steer away from politics and allow your judgment to be clouded with false or negative information,” Braatz said. “This event will help bring together the community and give people an opportunity to have their voices heard. A key aspect of this event is that the congressmen are here to promote bipartisanship.”

The event also serves as a way to educate WOU students about possible careers in public service, Camarillo said, and ways to get involved on campus. Although civic literacy and engagement are in a decline in the U.S., she said studies show today’s students are more politically aware and willing to become involved.

“It is important to know that civic engagement is more than just politics,” Camarillo said. “Students can become engaged by having conversations with people with different points of view. They can get involved by learning to listen to people who have different ideas, and then having discussions about how to solve problems together. You can volunteer at your local library or place of worship or contribute to a charity. The goal is to engage in an activity in your community to make it a better place.”


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