By: KATE LUCE
Elizabeth Bennion, professor of political science, has recently received the Barbara Burch Award once again. This makes Bennion the first person to win this award twice, initially winning the award in 2016.
The Barbara Burch Award is given to professors with at least five years of experience who show leadership in civic engagement. In total, 420 national colleges and universities put in nominations for this award.
“I was very surprised to be selected to receive this award again in 2019. It is a highly competitive national award, and I did not even know that I had been re-nominated. This national recognition from my peers reminds me that what I am doing is valued and inspires me to continue this work in the future,” Bennion said.
On campus, Bennion is known for her work with the American Democracy Project, where she serves as the founding director. The American Democracy Projects hosts voter registration, local, statewide, and national debates, public issue forums and civic education programs on campus.
“The American Democracy Project seeks to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to make a meaningful difference in their communities — and in the world. Civic engagement can take many forms. I promote community engagement broadly, but always try to remind students, and other young people, that non-political forms of engagement, though incredibly important and valuable, should not be seen as a substitute for political engagement,” Bennion said.
Locally, she hosts a weekly public affairs program, Publicly Speaking, on WNIT. She works with local media outlets to provide political analysis, moderate regional debates and forums and opens her classroom up to the public for issues within the community.
Statewide, she is the Vice President of the Indiana Debate Commission. Bennion works on planning debates for the governor and U.S. Senator. She also has the chance to interview many statewide elected officials.
Nationally, Bennion serves on many boards to promote civic education. She has co-edited two books about teaching civic education and is a principal researcher for many campuses to determine what the best way is to engage students with the political process. In addition to her research, she is featured in national newspaper columns, newsletter essays, academic journal articles, conferences and media interviews.
“Political polarization, incivility, fake news, and low levels of media literacy and political knowledge are a real concern for many people across our nation. My work, both inside and outside of the classroom, targets these problems.
I try to model informed and civil civic dialogue and engagement on the TV show, in the political debates I moderate, and as an instructor in the classroom. I teach a political controversies course that requires people to learn about logical fallacies, utilize their critical thinking skills, consult multiple sources, and engage in deliberative dialogues about controversial issues. The dialogues take place while sitting in a group of people who do not share similar backgrounds or political views. My students have been incredibly successful in modeling the type of political discussion and decision-making our elected officials so often find elusive,” Bennion said.
This is one of the reasons why Bennion believes she won this award. Another reason is because of Mayor Pete’s presidential campaign. Being an active political scientist and living in the same city as Buttigieg’s campaign, she has been cited in many national and international media outlets this year.
“It was quite surreal to sit in the South Bend Chocolate Café with a reporter from Switzerland while a reporter from Japan waited for me at the next table,” Bennion said.
Although she won an award this year, much is in store with many of the projects she is working on. The American Democracy Project is hosting several events this fall including debate parties for the presidential primaries, municipal candidate debates and Meet the Candidates Forums planned for South Bend, Mishawaka and Elkhart.
In addition, a large celebration for Constitution Day has been planned. Following the celebration, there will be a Lunch and Learn session on hate speech on campus, guns on campus, and a discussion on the new proposed Student Government Association for IU South Bend.
To keep up to date with all of these events, be sure to visit the American Democracy Project of IU South Bend’s Facebook Page.
“These events are open to all. It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman, a senior, a Republican, a Democratic or something else entirely,” Bennion said.
Throughout her time at IU South Bend, Bennion has been pushing both students and community to stay politically active through voting and discussions on and off campus. This year, that push is no different than when she first started.
“Community engagement and voting are both habit forming. We learn by doing. It is important for students to get involved while they are young so that civic and political engagement becomes a part of their lifestyle and personal identity. Millennial and post-millennial voters make up the largest share of the electorate. Young voters are not only our future, they are our present if they choose to use their power and make their voices heard. Before they get involved, though, they should get informed about the issues facing our region, state, nation, and world,” Bennion said.