Morgridge Center-led Study Aims to Support Underrepresented Students’ Participation in Civic Engagement

By Erin Gretzinger, Morgridge Center for Public Service

In an effort to understand and support civic engagement among underrepresented minority students on campus, Morgridge Center for Public Service staff have launched a research study that aims to enhance civic engagement programming at UW–Madison.

Photo of Earlise Ward
Dr. Earlise Ward, School of Nursing professor and faculty director at the Morgridge Center for Public Service

The study, headed by Faculty Director Dr. Earlise Ward and Graduate Project Assistant CC Vang, hopes to gain a better understanding of how underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students are participating in civic activities and identify ways to support students’ civic engagement.

Vang says the goal of the research is to better civic engagement outreach and outcomes at UW–Madison. While the study’s primary focus is to improve the programs housed in the Morgridge Center, Vang says the research will help other university units plan strategically and strengthen civic engagement efforts across campus.

“I hope that this study can provide perspective to broaden the definition of civic engagement to consider culture and different communities,” Vang says.

To get a “pulse” on the civic activities of underrepresented students, Vang says they are doing a phenomenological study, which means the research will focus on the essence of civic engagement for racial and ethnic minorities on campus and the lived experiences of those populations.

CC Vang
CC Vang, the graduate project assistant at the Morgridge Center

Students can get involved in the study by taking a 15-minute online survey or participating in a 15-minute interview in person or over Zoom. Vang encourages students to do both the interview and the survey to provide the strongest results, but any input will advance the goals of the research.

“If you’ve ever felt that you have something to share or talk about your experience at UW as it pertains to civic engagement, this is a great opportunity for you to share your voice,” he says.

Vang was inspired to dive into this research because of his undergraduate experience in a Black Greek-letter organization, where he saw how pertinent community engagement was to the mission of the Divine Nine. The Divine Nine refers to the nation’s nine historically Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities — six of which are currently active at UW–Madison.

Smiling fraternity brothers in front of lake wearing Kappa Rho sweatshirts
The members of Kappa Rho Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., one of the Divine Nine organizations on campus, celebrating their founders day in 2017.

Through this experience, Vang says he saw different cultural relationships with community engagement, and how the perception of community engagement often leaves the ways underrepresented groups participate out of the picture.

He hopes the study can help students from underrepresented groups see the professional and personal value of the ways they participate in civic activities, and he believes the study will help broaden the understanding of how UW–Madison students engage with the community.

“Community volunteering and civic engagement isn’t just one a particular thing, it’s so encompassing, and I think that everyone could benefit from having a sense of what that can look like for each community,” he explains. “It’s about inclusivity. It’s about making UW–Madison a better place for all students, and that begins with figuring out what students haven’t been considering historically and what students still haven’t been, and to use that as a lens to engage in this work.”

Vang says encouraging and supporting civic participation from underrepresented populations is not only important for the UW campus, but also for the betterment of democratic efforts across the UW System and Wisconsin.

The study will conclude on Nov 1. Students from underrepresented minority groups can take the survey online or email to schedule an interview with Vang to contribute to the results.

Vang wants to remind students that any experience is a valuable perspective, and he hopes students realize the impact their voices can have on the study.

“Know that when you share your story with us, it is going to lead to outcomes and it’s going to have implications on campus,” he says. “Your efforts are part of a larger vision, a larger picture.”