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UTEP to Celebrate Constitution Day with Area Students

Last Updated on September 12, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Originally published September 12, 2018

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

Approximately 800 students from area high schools will get multiple perspectives on the importance of the U.S. government on its 231st birthday through a Constitution Day performance and presentations on Sept. 17, 2018, at The University of Texas at El Paso.

Organizers of the 2018 Constitution Day celebration at UTEP hope the high school participants will learn about the Constitution and its importance to U.S. democracy.
Organizers of the 2018 Constitution Day celebration at UTEP hope the high school participants will learn about the Constitution and its importance to U.S. democracy.

UTEP faculty members from the departments of English, Theatre Arts and Political Science, and the Women’s Studies, Chicano Studies and African-American Studies programs will lead seven sessions that focus on the U.S. Constitution, several of its amendments and constitutional law. The activities are from 9:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Union Building East, the Fox Fine Arts Center and the Blumberg Auditorium inside the University Library.

The event will start at 9:30 a.m. with a brief welcome by Denis O’Hearn, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts, at Centennial Plaza before the students go to the first of the three sessions they will attend. Topics will include citizenship, antislavery literature and the women’s suffrage movement. UTEP’s Center for Civic Engagement also will conduct a voter registration drive in the Union as part of the program.

While the University always celebrates Constitution Day, 2018 is the first year that organizers have arranged anything this big on campus. While the program’s emphasis is on the Constitution, a secondary focus is to familiarize these students with UTEP, some of its academic programs and their instructors, said Irasema Coronado, Ph.D., professor of political science and one of UTEP’s Constitution Day organizers.

“Hopefully (the high school seniors) will appreciate the importance of higher education, learn about the Constitution, and leave UTEP armed with information on how this document enhances our democracy,” Coronado said.

One of the more visual sessions will be “Exercising Our Rights: A Series of Performance Pieces Highlighting the First Amendment,” which will be produced by James “Jay” Stratton, assistant professor of performance in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Stratton promised that his cast of 10 students will entertain their guests with skits, raps, a song and a dance as they are being informed about the importance of the First Amendment, which provides freedoms of speech, religion and peaceful assembly as well as freedoms of the press and to petition the government. He said “the Constitution Crew” would offer some serious messages, but the majority of the session will be fun.

“I think all performers must have an appreciation for the First Amendment because it gives them the right to stand on a stage and say something that some could find objectionable,” said Stratton, who will be assisted by Patricia “Pat” Provencio, music director of the UTEP Dinner Theatre. “With few exceptions, art is protected by the First Amendment. We do plays (at UTEP) about immigration and no one shuts us down.”

Michael V. Williams, Ph.D., director of UTEP’s African-American Studies program, will lead another session of note. He planned to use PowerPoint slides, images and videos to engage his audience during “The Promise of Citizenship in the U.S. Constitution and the State Practices that Denied It: The Failure of the 14th Amendment to Protect African Americans in the Segregated South.”

The 14th Amendment, adopted on July 9, 1868, defines citizenship as anyone born or naturalized in the United States, provides equal protection of the laws, and forbids states to restrict basic rights of citizens or other persons.

Williams said he would ask the students questions throughout the presentation to bolster their understanding of the history of oppressive segregation. He said he wants students to understand the rights they have through the Constitution and the power and responsibility to demand those rights even when it is challenging to do so.

“It’s important that students understand the social struggles that took place, the promises that were made and how (the law) failed in many instances to live up to the promise of full citizenship for all,” Williams said. “They need to understand how African-Americans and others challenged the system, how some of them gave their lives, and how things got better as a result. They also must understand that issues still exist today that require their activism in defense of the rights and privileges that people fought for.”

Tiffanie Allberg, social studies department head at Irvin High School, said she was “stoked” about this program because the session topics resonated with her students. She said she expects the program will open many conversations among the 50 Irvin students who will attend. Instructors selected the participants based on their class attendance and interest in civic engagement.

Allberg, an educator for 18 years who earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from UTEP in 2000, said many of her students are active in their community and want to make it better, but they do not always feel as if they are part of the process.

“They want to be politically active, but they don’t know how,” she said. The educator mentioned several activities planned at the school to help them understand their role in society. “They need to recognize their power as informed and motivated voters.”

Allberg added that UTEP’s Department of Political Science has agreed to send several instructors to the Northeast high school, 9465 Roanoke Dr., as part of a lecture series that will start in October 2018.