If you have 30 promising freshmen together in one place, it’s a good bet that the Freshmen Leadership Program (FLP) is involved. If those freshmen are involved in a civic engagement exercise, the LEAP Center may be part of the proceedings. The collaboration of these two offices, under the stewardship of Lindsay Lauher and Mike Yawn, led to a Mock City Council in Council Chambers on a Wednesday afternoon late in the spring semester.
“We are always looking to push students’ leadership skills,” noted Lauher, “and civic leadership is a key component of our program.”
The Council meeting involved students adopting various roles: angry citizens, media officials, city council, and city staff—all of which involved a deep dive into public policy. In particular, the council members of Mockville, Texas, explored the possibility of “legalizing cannabis” and “implementing an extensive wellness program” for City staff. Both, as one might imagine, were controversial.
In addressing the legalization of cannabis, for example, students had to assess the health ramifications (Public Health Director), the impact such a policy would have on crime (Chief Public Safety Officer), the legality of a city moving against a state law (City Attorney) as well as the political implications (Council members) of the ordinance.
Students initially thought that a wellness program might be less controversial, but questions of privacy slowed down the proceedings. The ordinance involved “free” Fitbits provided to all City of Mockville employees, with the hope that this recourse might offer helpful reminders to stay healthy. But devices such as Fitbits also collect a lot of information about the wearer: exercise habits, sleep habits, location, and, in some cases, both dietary routines and sexual health. Putting that information in the hands of employers met with resistance among the council members.
Apart from the policy issues, however, perhaps what most impressed the students was the difference between their perceptions and the reality of a council-manager form of government. Tristen Anderson, a freshman Criminal Justice major and “Mayor” during the proceedings, was surprised at how little power the mayor had: “On television, you see these super powerful mayors, but that’s just not the case in most cities.” This realization, he noted, “changed my entire perspective on that type of politics, perhaps even to the point of seeking out such an office later in life.”
Jared Scott, a freshman Accounting major, agreed. “I enjoyed the whole experience, and although I am an Accounting major, I hope to run for City Council in whichever city I settle down in.” For one of the sessions, Scott did serve as a “Council member,” while serving as “City Manager” in the other session. Both impressed him, and, in fact, Scott was so struck by the experience, he actually attended the next City of Huntsville Council meeting, just to compare it to his experience. “All in all,” he continued, “I learned a lot from this activity, and I’m glad that both the LEAP Center and FLP are open to students of all majors.”
“It’s a pleasure to work with high-achieving students,” said Yawn, “and I think good things happen when offices on the academic side of things (LEAP) collaborate with offices on the student affairs side of things (FLP). We all have the same broad mission.”
The FLP offers rich learning opportunities to test, refine, and further develop the leadership abilities of first-year students. For information, contact Lindsay Lauher at email@example.com or 294-2347. The Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics offers students unique activities that promote the public good. For information, contact Mike Yawn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 294-1456.