Students were able to see how government affects all Americans this Saturday at IU’s largest Constitution Day celebration to date. The event was presented through a collaboration with the Maurer School of Law and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Students were placed in groups to create and propose amendments to the Constitution.
“They should have the opportunity not just to celebrate what we think is great about our Constitution but to really question, ‘What isn’t working?’” said Beth Cate, SPEA Law and Public Policy faculty coordinator.
Each student was also assigned a specific voter persona, such as an affluent businessman or single mother, that he or she had to portray throughout the day, Cate said. They had to stay in these characters as they argued for or against different aspects of their proposed amendments.
The idea was to vary opinions during discussions without limiting students’ participation based on their beliefs, Cate said.
Freshman Raegan Davis played a 72-year-old white business woman from Montgomery, Alabama, who had received money from political action committees. The persona argued against limiting PACs during the discussion on a campaign funding amendment.
These values differed from Davis’ own, she said. That difference helped her make more rational decisions because had no attachment to her statements.
Davis said she liked the challenges to her thinking.
“Whenever you’re looking at things from another perspective, it makes it easier to form your own opinions and help you debate with others,” Davis said.
Sophomore Zach Hoard played a Southern auto mechanic with a wife and three kids. His biggest concerns were immigration, outsourcing and job loss due to new technologies.
Although he said he did not relate to his character, he comes from a small town where many people would. Coming from a poor, conservative area helped him understand what his persona would argue and why, Hoard said.
“It’s definitely ingrained into my thought process and definitely something I keep in mind,” Hoard said.
He said the exercise helped him understand how lawmaking processes affect people on a personal level.
“I learned that it’s really hard to win over a crowd of people on issues that are currently salient because there are so many opinions,” Hoard said. “You’re not going to get a consensus when there’s no cultural consensus.”
Before they began their own work, students listened to a panel of Constitutional scholars. The panel included State Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis; David F. Hamilton, a federal judge; and Susan Williams, an IU law professor.
Williams stayed involved throughout the day and helped make the amendments as strong as possible.
As director of the Center for Constitutional Democracy for IU’s law school, Williams said she wants students to understand the importance of the Constitution.
“If you don’t understand the basics of your own government, if you don’t take the trouble to learn about it, I don’t think you have the right to complain,” Williams said.
She said her favorite part of the day was watching students struggle to come to a solution.
After listening to the groups propose their amendments at the end of the day, she offered advice to help improve their ideas. She told them compromise would always be necessary in lawmaking, but they should never be afraid to think big.
“Start with the dream, because if you don’t know what the goal is, you don’t know the steps that will take you there,” Williams said.