Constitution Day: Making the Most of a Federal Requirement
Why Constitution Day?
According to the US Department of Education, “Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year is required to hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution for its students.” Most institutions receive some form of federal funding or subsidies, so they must meet this Congressional mandate. While there is not mandate on how this requirement is met, it must somehow relate to the Constitution. This gives colleges and universities the opportunity to plan a creative, unique program that best fits their students.
This year’s holiday is on Monday, September 17, which commemorates the signing of the US Constitution. This date is eight days before National Voter Registration Day and fifty days before Election Day, which makes it a unique opportunity to mobilize student civic engagement.
Below are a variety of ideas and resources. Minnesota Campus Compact has a page of resources on incorporating dialogue into this day and there is a free resource from the New York Times and American Democracy Project here.
- Host panel discussions featuring local or state political figures to discuss the importance of youth voting or voter ID laws. Have examples of proper voter ID cards that students can bring to the polls.
- Convene a dialogue on the First Amendment’s freedoms.
- Lead group conversations using Campus Election Engagement Project’s Living Room Conversations guide to have meaningful discussions with students.
- Host Bagels & Ballots, Donuts & Dialogue, or Politics & A Pint.
- Invite local politicians to campus to host a town hall with students.
- Have a conversation or dialogue that could be centered around a relevant issue, using the resources provided here by Minnesota Campus Compact.
- Connect administration and students in a forum to create a “University Bill of Rights.”
- Work with middle schools or high schools in the community to have college students lead a in-class debate or workshop around Constitutional rights.
- Pass out pocket Constitutions and have a table where students can register to vote.
- Contact your local board of elections to host polling machines on campus. This allows first time voters to see what they can expect when going to the polls.
- Pass out “Commit to Vote” cards and help students create an “Election Day Plan.”
- Make a table with Election Day trivia – both history of voting and who’s currently on the ballot, along with absentee ballot request forms and registration forms.
- Host a forum on voting rights, especially if you’re in a state that recently passed Voter ID legislation.
- Work with the high schools in the area to register students who are of voting age.
- Host a 5K “Dash for Democracy” where volunteers register voters and pass out information on candidates, identification information, and more.
- Organize a student meeting or town hall with local election officials or candidates.
- Host two tables in a bottleneck area. Have students conduct a survey of individuals knowledge of the Constitution. Make it a competition between the students awarding the winner and participants with patriotic pins, pens, bracelets, necklaces, etc. The purpose of this is to see what an average student knows. If the knowledge is low it might be worth presenting to administration for to show the need for civics integrated into classrooms.
- Act out the Bill of Rights in the “Living Constitution,” and/or wear colonial-era clothing to draw students to your booth.
- Host a Constitution Movie Marathon or show a film relating to one of the amendments.
- Create a video with students, staff, and faculty explaining the importance of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and voting.
- Use Band of Rights, which has a lot of Constitutional literacy resources here.
- Have a poster where passersby can respond to questions relating to the Constitution in the context of current events.
- Use social media networks to post “Fascinating Constitution Facts” or how rights and liberties affect students.
- Throw a birthday party for the Constitution. Have cake, music, balloons, and other decorations to get students to come to your booth. This can be combined with voter registration, Constitution facts, and other fun events.
- Utilize the campus radio station, newspapers, and/or digital signage to share history of the Constitution.
- Invite the band, choir, and/or orchestra to host a concert of patriotic music, or invite the theater program to do a shortened production of Hamilton.
- Host an essay contest with a small prize or scholarship.
Looking for more support? Election Engagement Coordinator Samantha Bayne is here to help. Contact her for ideas and resources. Also, please share your plans with us via email or on social media @IACampusCompact.