Communities across the nation are facing pressing challenges. Now, more than ever, it is important to embolden students with the knowledge and skills to contribute to positive change. Many are seeking to better understand the deep divisions impacting the country and movements to address equity and justice.
Over 600 student leaders, higher education representatives, and nonprofit professionals explored these issues in mid-February, when the Gephardt Institute and Washington University hosted the 2017 IMPACT Conference on campus. The national conference, in its 33rd year, convened a diverse group of future civic leaders dedicated to service, action, and advocacy.
With leadership from Manager of K-12 Initiatives La’Rez Wilson, the Gephardt Institute began working with conference organizers over a year ago. “Hosting the IMPACT conference was an opportunity to showcase WashU and the progress we have made to truly embed a civic ethos into the fabric of our campus,” La’Rez remarked. “The Gephardt Institute supported the conference through a series of workshops and events that reinforced themes of community partnership, community engagement, social justice, service, and inclusion.”
Conference attendees connected through keynote speakers, workshops, panels, networking, and community service, all while acquainting themselves with St. Louis and the WashU campus. The Gephardt Institute organized a pre-conference program that included visits with campus partners such as the Center for Diversity & Inclusion; the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurship and Interdisciplinary Innovation; a service project, tour, and discussion with Operation Food Search; and a “St. Louis Up Close” series that contextualized regional issues through the perspectives of residents. The institute also led skill-building workshops throughout the conference on topics such as entering and exiting a community; political engagement; civic identity development; living into the civic mission of higher education; building effective community partnerships; and assessment strategies. Additionally, the institute convened a stirring all-conference panel from local leaders doing racial justice work, who encouraged attendees to advocate for racial justice and “live into their citizenship.”
Congressman Dick Gephardt delivered a provocative keynote address in Graham Chapel reflecting on democracy’s future and the urgent need for engaged citizens. Chancellor Mark Wrighton introduced Congressman Gephardt, who called on students to engage in public service and to support a vibrant democracy, summing that, “Democracy is a fragile arrangement and its continuation is never guaranteed.”
To view Congressman Gephardt’s full remarks, click here.