By its mission, the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service at SUU prepares students to serve as responsible educated citizens in our democratic society, but it does much more than that for SUU’s students, faculty, staff, and even many members of the local community, who all recognize the importance of staying informed and connected to the political influences and agendas that shape our democratic lives. And in a political arena that seems ever more divisive, the non-partisan Leavitt Center continues to expand its offerings and programming, as evidenced by new initiatives this spring semester that are quickly gaining traction across the community.
The Center has now created its own political blog, has enhanced its guest lecture series and panel discussions, and has plans to continue evolving based on campus and community usage and feedback.
Each week at the Leavitt Center opens with a blog post introducing a political theme for the week that is tied to hot topic current events. Written by a member of the executive council, the blog post is shared on different social media sites, opening various opportunities for public discourse and debate.
This has proven very popular thus far, explains Leavitt Center Executive Director Eric Kirby. “Everybody has different ways they interact and give their opinion, and not everyone is willing to raise their hand and speak out loud. The blog and discussions we post through Facebook and Twitter are new avenues we hope will encourage discussion and get the Center’s name out.”
Within nine days after first launching the blog, the site had more than 1,000 individual hits, and its readership continues to grow.
The weekly topic is also discussed more formally in a weekly Pizza & Politics presentation, where an expert on the subject at hand discusses its political underpinnings and then leads the audience in an open discussion, challenging all views and broadening perspectives.
Beyond the weekly political chatter encouraged through such initiatives, the Leavitt Center also hosts high profile academics and politicians in presentations about pressing political issues, and continues to expand student service, leadership and political internship opportunities.
And really, according to Kirby, who is still new on the job and brings with him years of expertise and many new ideas, this semester is just the beginning—a sneak peak, if you will, of all that he plans will come.
“The sky is the limit for the Center. There is a great amount of support from the University, but that is also spreading throughout the community. We want to become an unbiased and respected political source in southern Utah for quality information.”
To expand its influence, the Center is also starting to research the political awareness of high schools in the local area to see if collaboration between the Center and local schools could help encourage a more informed youth better prepared to soon participate in the democratic process as informed and responsible voters.
Kirby anticipates such efforts will likely begin in earnest next fall.
Back on campus, the Center continues to try to encourage the University’s own students to get informed and get involved.
According to Kirby, “An understanding of the politics behind any given field is vital to professional success.”
He offers up math and science and the arts as prime examples.
“Why certain people get paid so little, what is funded, why you can’t research certain things—this is all politics, and our students need to see that.”
He is cheered by a growing base of student involvement from across campus.
According to Kirby, a majority of the Center’s student executive council are students with majors beyond the obvious. In fact, just two of the 11 council members are political science majors.
Moving forward, Kirby and his students are planning to conduct a campus-wide survey, to gain an accurate perspective of student opinions on political awareness and involvement as a whole, to better target ongoing programming.
For now, Kirby is both optimistic and ambitious. “We have such a great group of supporters and students, the sky truly is the limit. and truly the sky is the limit. We can make it as big as we want it to be.”
He continues, “My vision is not to put a ceiling on this. I know we can continue to turn the Center into an entity that is well respected at the state and local level—a place where community members, students and even the media all know they can come for quality, unbiased information related to a wide array of political and social issues.”
A complete schedule of all the Center's programming and opportunities for students and community members is available online at suu.edu/leavittcenter.