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Students learn importance of civic duty, perspective-taking at Issue Day 2017


Students participate in a social "bubble" experiment during Issue Day in the Bovee University Center Rotunda Room on Oct. 28.

Issue Day keynote speaker and Educational Leadership faculty member Matthew Johnson, says this generation of students is "the most civically engaged generation in 40 years," according to survey data. 

100 students attended CMU's 17th annual Issue Day in the Bovee University Center Rotunda Room Oct. 28. Geared towards increasing civic service and social awareness, Issue Day provided six break-out options punctuated two 50-minute sessions, with topics ranging from the importance of electing women to public office to on-campus service opportunities. 

Imlay City sophomore Mary Miller attended because she finds importance in current social justice issues.

 "They're very important in our society now, understanding where people come from and what they've experienced in their lives," Miller said. "If I can understand those things, and other people can understand those things, than we can better communicate and form deeper relationships."

Facilitator senior Kaycie Hill echoed Miller's sentiments. "Issue Day brings attention to issues that we may not face every day," explaining "we may not always know how to deal with it" and the topics covered educate attendees on how to become better allies in communities they aren't familiar with.

Johnson began CMU's 17th annual Issue Day with a speech helping empower students to give a "perspective take" in order to more effectively and empathically involve themselves in their service. 

"We're programmed to think internally," Johnson said. 

To demonstrate how difficult it could be to perspective take in different situations, the speaker showed the audience a gif of "the spinning woman," who is seen as spinning clockwise to some and counter-clockwise to others. The infamous black-and-blue vs. gold-and-white dress was also used to illustrate this point, and was met by exasperated groans from the audience, remembering the controversy it originally caused.

The speaker's research showed that the way people are raised has more of an effect on their ability and dedication to perspective-taking than institutional influence, which Johnson says is an issue. His research has shown the better one knows themself, the better an individual can perspective-take. 

So far, Johnson has three steps one can take to grow as an empathetic individual: question what your perspective is based on, seek other perspectives and incorporate different perspectives into your actions. 

The researcher referred to the "bubble effect" that became popular after the 2016 presidential election, and urged the audience to seek out different people, talk to them about their personal perspectives, and put those perspectives to work in their own lives. 

Indianapolis graduate student Shantia Reese commented on the social environment at CMU.

"I see silos of races and I see silos of people," Reese said. "The same people in the same places, not really venturing out."

The breakout sessions aimed to challenge that.

Hannah Bartol of the Office of Native American Programming held her breakout session on society, and more closely, the university's treatment of Native Americans.

Though the "Chippewa" Tribe is the fifth largest tribe in the United States, "Chippewa" isn't even their native title. 

"(European colonizers) were told 'Ojibwe' and heard 'Chippewa,'" Bartol said. "It's dehumanizing."

Students interested in increasing their civic involvement may find resources at the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. Opportunities include Pack Your Back, Take Back The Tap, Alternative Breaks, Lunch Buddies, The David Garcia Project, among others.