Workshops strive for better informed community: IUSB’s ADP and SJCPL team up for Civic Leadership Academy

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It may not seem like it, but there has been one positive change with Donald Trump being elected President.

With each passing day, more and more people are paying attention to how the Trump administration has attempted to govern. The effect can be seen on social media and through people participating in different marches for various causes.

IU South Bend’s American Democracy Project and the St. Joseph County Public Library are also educating people through a series of workshops called the Civic Leadership Academy. The workshops began on March 22 and will continue every Wednesday night until April 26.

The first workshop, titled “Facts Matter! A Guide to Critical Thinking” drew 110 people to the St. Joseph County Public Library on Main Street in downtown South Bend. Future workshops will teach people how to contact their elected officials, deal with the legislative process, how to protest effectively and (ideally) non-violently, and how to solve community problems through civic leadership.

“We really look at it as a full spectrum of civic skills that people might need to improve the lives of their community,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bennion, director of the American Democracy Project.

Tonight’s workshop at the downtown SJCPL branch will deal with deciphering real news and fake news. Bennion said that the partnership with the library is “a really wonderful partnership.”

“The library was actually planning to do a session on fake news and invited to serve as a panelist,” Bennion said. “When I received their invitation, I let them know that we were planning a session at the same time they were planning to host theirs, so that’s how we ended up partnering with the library. They had been hearing the same kinds of requests from the community for panels on these topics.”

One of the things Bennion said people can do to decipher fake news from real news is to go to web sites like Snopes, PolitiFact and FactCheck to see if stories have already been debunked. Another step you can take to see if what you’re looking at is real or fake is fairly simple.

“Look at the actual domain name because, sometimes, it’s just a few letters from something they think they recognize,” Bennion said. “If you go to the source and you see that your political story is next to another 50 stories, all with the same political bent, you can bet that this is really an opinion paper or a paper that’s trying to drive public opinion instead of actually reporting on the news.”

Each Civic Leadership Academy workshop runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights. People who participate in at least four workshops will receive a certificate from the American Democracy Project of IU South Bend. 

Wednesday, March 29: “Real News vs. Fake News: Know the Difference!” (at downtown St. Joseph County Public Library)

Wednesday, April 5: “Contacting Elected Officials: Influencing the Decision Makers” (at IUSB)

Wednesday, April 12: “The Legislative Process: Influencing Local, State, and National Policy Debates” (at IUSB)

Wednesday, April 19: “Protest 101: Making Your Voice Heard” (at IUSB)

Wednesday, April 26: “Solving Community Problems: A Step-by-Step Guide to Civic Leadership” (at IUSB)

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