Democracy at Work: Students Headed to D4D Conference

Helen Brabant-Bleakley ’18 and Asuka Watanabe ’18 have been selected to represent Ursinus at the Project Pericles Debating for Democracy (D4D) National Conference in New York City.

The two students will join 65 other college students from across the country on March 30 and 31 at Eugene Lang College at the New School for Liberal Arts.

Four other Ursinus students were recognized as semi-finalists in the Project Pericles Letters to an Elected Official competition.

“We college students have the enormous privilege of studying and working towards a career in what we are interested in and it’s important to actively think about how public policy and social issues affect all our lives,” says Watanabe, a junior sociology major from Torrance, Calif. “Participating in the D4D Conference will give more detailed insight to existing issues and spread awareness, as well as suggest actions that we can take as college students to push forward against forces that are perpetuating issues in our society and world.” 

According to Project Pericles, of which Ursinus is a charter member, Debating for Democracy is designed to promote civic engagement and effective advocacy skills among students. Through workshops, a national conference, and co-curricular programs on each campus, students acquire the tools and tactics they need to advance their issues and to get their messages across to elected officials, fellow students, community groups, and the media.

During the national conference, student leaders are joined by college presidents, faculty, foundation representatives, government officials, community leaders, and members of the media to participate in a series of panels and workshops with leading experts on topics including: civic engagement, education, the environment, journalism, social entrepreneurship, and public policy.

“I look forward to meeting students from all over the country and hearing what kinds of service opportunities schools offer,” says Brabant-Bleakley, a junior sociology and French double major from Indianapolis, Ind. “This is also a great opportunity to meet professionals from various fields and hear about their experiences. I’m hoping to broaden my worldview and learn about other opportunities to continue the work we’ve been learning about in my Peace and Social Justice class.”

Meanwhile, out of more than 100 submissions to the Letters to an Elected Official competition, the letter written by Ursinus students Erin Farrell, Gwen Franklin, Ally Lu and Keturah Pagan was one of just 20 selected as a semi-finalist. Although not chosen as a finalist, the team is just the second from Ursinus in the last decade chosen as a semi-finalist.

The competition engages students in public policy issues, the political process, and with their elected officials. Project Pericles awards prizes to winning student teams to support their efforts to move their issue forward locally and nationally. The letter the Ursinus group wrote proposes a solution to close a perceived loophole in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. –by Ed Moorhouse