BY VICTORIA MESCALL
Editor in Chief
On Wednesday Mar. 27, the Sacred Heart Institute for Public Policy and the Department of Government hosted Congressman Robert Weygand, RI and Congressman Gil Gutknecht, MN on campus as part of the Congress to Campus Program.
The congressmen spent two days at Sacred Heart visiting classes from political science, to media arts and criminal justice. The congressmen meet with students and professors, and answered questions about public service both from their time in their respective local legislatures and in the United States Congress.
“Congress to Campus brings together former members of congress and today’s youth to increase civic literacy and participation. A bipartisan pair of former Members are sent to college, university and community college campuses for two day visits,” according to their website.
And after their busy day on campus, Weygand and Gutknecht sat down with “The Spectrum” to answer questions about Congress to Campus and their time in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It doesn’t get old,” said Weygand. “Speaking to students who are interested in public service or public policy. If we can inspire them to a life of public service either as a public office holder or through volunteerism, that is extremely important for our society.”
Congress to Campus visits provide an intimate setting for students to discover for themselves what participation in a democracy entails. But it is also a beneficial program for the congressional members.
“I always say that I feel like I get more out of these visits than the kids do,” said Gutknecht. “I think former members have a lot to share. I think our stories can go beyond informing students I think they can inspire them. And maybe one of them will be inspired to run for public office someday.”
Weygand highlighted that when he speaks to students, he asks if they are registered to vote, if they know who their local elected representative is, and if they have ever written their representative a letter. Because participation in democracy is active, not passive.
“We are apostles for democracy,” said Weygand. “We believe in this kind of interaction. Even if you disagree with someone’s opinion. You agree to disagree, and keep on going.”
“In the Minnesota State Legislature, we had a rule that we enforced pretty aggressively,” said Gutknecht. “It was a violation of house rules to question the motives of another member. So, you couldn’t say ‘he only supports that because of his personal reason’. We didn’t get into personalities, we had real debates.”
Congress to Campus aims to engage students and inspire greater democratic participation; whether it is in the arena of public service or as simple as voting.
“It is so wonderful to have two models of public service visit our campus. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this program,” said Dr. Gary Rose, Chair of the Department of Government, Politics, and Global Studies. “I think the fact that these two gentlemen have served and that they’re still here serving the country speaks volumes about how committed they are. They are two models of public service who are demonstrating that service continues beyond elected office.”