Constitution Day celebrated with exhibits, voter registration and public forum

September 10, 2007

The Penn State community is celebrating Constitution Day 2007 with a series of public displays, readings and discussions to be held Sept. 17 on the University Park campus.

The goal of the event is to challenge fellow students and members of the public to look carefully at the constitutional roles of citizens in a democracy.

Students in Professor Peter Aeschbacher's first year art and design studio class developed three installations during a semester of work in which they integrated fundamental questions of art and design with constitutionally based issues of citizen participation in the American democracy. The results will be unveiled and on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Constitution Day. The installations include:

-- The Illicit Literature Lounge, displayed on the Mall in front of Pattee Library, which invites visitors to explore the First Amendment's protection of literature and the arts. It urges viewers to consider what the Constitution means when it proclaims that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech or the press."

-- The Writers' Block in front of the Palmer Art Museum displays a series of compelling national questions, chalk and geometric blocks on which to voice public responses "as members of a democratic community in which the voice of 'We the People' provides the ultimate check and balance on government," according to Jeremy Cohen, associate vice president and senior associate dean for Undergraduate Education. Cohen is co-coordinator of Constitution Day.

-- A third area that goes to the heart of the Eighth Amendment is an abstract construction that will sit on the Willaman Gateway Walk south of the bridge between the Chemistry and Life Sciences buildings. Here, visitors will be asked to consider the Constitution's voice in the determination of whether or not capital punishment violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

Students from Professor Michael Elavsky's "Media and Democracy" class and from Professor Rosa Eberly's "Literary Public Spheres" class and her graduate seminar, "Contemporary Rhetorical Theory," are working with the students from art and architecture to provide context and continuity for the exhibits.

"Beyond a national celebration of the Constitution, our goal is to develop the democratic capacity among young people that is necessary to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities as citizens," Cohen said. "Embedding constitutional understanding into the curriculum and then sharing that curriculum with others provides an effective laboratory for democratic learning."

Penn State's Office of Undergraduate Education and the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy, which have responsibility for Constitution Day, are reaching out this year to involve the public, as well as students, according to Mary Lou Zimmerman Munn, coordinator of the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy and co-coordinator of Constitution Day. Two of the three installations will celebrate and nurture an additional constitutional right, the right to vote. Voter registration for the public, as well as for students, will be available, regardless of political party affiliation, at the Palmer Museum and Pattee Library sites throughout the day with help from Represent, a nonpartisan Penn State student group that seeks to increase the number of citizens who vote.

The Centre County Public Issues Forum will close the Constitution Day celebration with an open forum, "The New Challenges of American Immigration: What Should We Do?" The free event features an interactive public discussion from 6 to 9 p.m. in 109 Sackett Building. Advance registration for the forum is appreciated. To register, call (814) 865-0974 24 hours a day or contact Lori Bedell at lab41@psu.edu via e-mail.

More about the Penn State Constitution Day programs is available at http://www.publicscholarship.psu.edu online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009