What is WU-mester?

WU-mester is intended to foster a university-wide conversation on a diversity-related topic that will change each spring semester. The goal of the program is to engage the entire WU community in a collective learning experience on timely subjects and help students see the connections between the subjects they study in the classroom and real-world debates and problems.

The Spring 2019 Topic

The Spring 2020 Topic

Citizenship and Suffrage

 

Citizenship is a status that carries with it both rights and duties. It is not a static concept, but has instead varied widely throughout history and across regions.

What are the rights of citizenship? In the United States, we often think of suffrage—the right to vote—as a primary right and privilege of citizenship. But it was not always necessary to be a citizen to vote in this country, and many citizens were long disenfranchised because of their race, sex, or poverty, among other reasons. Voter suppression remains a problem today.  But in many other nations in the world, citizenship does not entail voting rights at all. In thinking about citizenship, some emphasize the duties that citizenship should demand, duties that may include political participation, environmental stewardship, military or government service, or social and political activism. Other countries, however, have very different concepts of what citizenship entails.  

WU-mester 2020 will examine who belongs to this and other nations, who has historically belonged, and what belonging—and not belonging—means.  

The selection of this topic for WU-mester is inspired by the fact that 2020 is an election year in the United States. It is also the 150th anniversary of the fifteenth amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote (at least until racism and discrimination took this right away again after the end of Reconstruction until the Civil Rights movement in the mid-twentieth century), as well as the centennial anniversary of the nineteenth amendment that extended voting rights to women (although non-white women, especially in the South, were often prevented from exercising this right until the Voting Rights Act of 1965). It is also a census year, a year when the U.S. constitution requires every resident of the nation to be counted for the purposes of allocating representation in Congress and billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities.  

As these anniversaries suggest, citizenship can be a powerful bond between people and their government, and it can provide a basis for unity for people within a nation. But within marginalized communities, the very notion of “citizenship” is what has often relegated members to the margins of society. Citizenship is always about who belongs, but it is also always about who does not belong. To be excluded from citizenship by law or practice is to be deprived of human dignity and subjugated to the will of others. This happened to Jews in Nazi Germany; to people of color during the Apartheid era in South Africa; and to African Americans before the dismantling of Jim Crow legislation. It remains true for oppressed populations in countries throughout the world, including the United States. As much as citizenship can provide a sense of shared identity and a social and civic bond, the status of citizenship or non-citizenship can also discount, segregate, and reject. 

WU-mester 2020 will examine the concepts of citizenship and suffrage from the perspective of academic disciplines across campus and through a variety of co-curricular programming. It will consider citizenship and suffrage across the world and throughout history in order to expand and complicate our ideas of what both mean and have meant and why they remain important. It will invite participants to become civically minded and engaged, as well as aware of and empathetic to the disenfranchised and oppressed populations in their own and other societies.  

 

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