The Importance of Congressional Student Forums

U.S. Capitol, 1859: Congressional Student Forum
Elevation of dome of U.S. Capitol, 1859

A message from Institute for Civility in Government co-founder, Cassandra Dahnke.

Some people think it never happens. They think that Republicans and Democrats cannot work together, or even have a civil conversation. But those people are mistaken. It does happen – and could happen more if more people would speak out for civility.

For years the Institute for Civility in Government has sponsored Congressional Student Forums. These bring two members of Congress from opposite sides of the political aisle together on college campuses around the country in order to model civil and respectful conversations with students and faculty on whatever issues the students bring to the table. The conversations are lively and informative. And they are critically important to our civic process.

Congressional Student Forums set an important precedent for students’ future civic involvement – they set a high standard for citizen empowerment and participation, and a high standard for civility and respect. But they are important, too, for building collegial relationships among members of Congress who have far too few opportunities to spend time together, sharing ideas rather than beating each other up with them.

Historically, the Institute has been able — at best — to host only one Congressional Student Forum per semester. This is in part because university schedules are highly complicated, and in part because members of Congress are very busy. But making the time for these events is not impossible. And when it all comes together, the experience is an exceptional one for all involved.

This spring, the Institute has scheduled not one, but three Congressional Student Forums: at Lone Star College, North Harris (Houston) with Representatives Kevin Brady and Gene Green; at the University of Missouri, Kansas City with Representatives Emanuel Cleaver and Kevin Yoder; and at University of Texas, San Antonio with Representatives Henry Cuellar and Lamar Smith.

Why the increased success? It is because these members of Congress have made it a priority to make it happen. They worked to make it happen. They wanted it. And they accomplished it.

And more members of Congress might, too, if they knew that their constituents wanted them to participate in events like this: events that are bipartisan and civil, that are not debates, not contents to see who wins and who loses — but opportunities to share different ideas and philosophies so that we can all consider them more carefully.

It is in events like these where conversation is created and new ideas and relationships are born.

Our vision is to grow interest in civility and membership in the Institute large enough to shift the culture — so that one day, when members of Congress are elected, they make scheduling Congressional Student Forums a priority, not an afterthought. Can you imagine what a difference that would make in our political discourse? Our communities? Our nation?

It can happen. But it needs your support. Tell your member of Congress that you care about civility. Join the Institute today. Keep the movement growing.

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