Penn State to commemorate Constitution Day with events, resources

Alison Kuznitz
September 16, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall 229 years ago Saturday, Sept. 17, marking the passage of fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens of the United States.            

However, it was not until 2004 that Constitution Day went into effect following the efforts of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd.

Byrd was passionate about spreading awareness of the vital document and required all educational institutions receiving federal funding to implement programming every Sept. 17. According to the National Constitution Center, Byrd said, “Our ideals of freedom, set forth and realized in our Constitution, are our greatest export to the world.”

Since Constitution Day falls on Saturday this year, Penn State has several events planned for Friday, Sept. 16, as a means of helping students appreciate the significance of the Framers’ long-lasting impact.

The Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, alongside the Center for Character, Conscience, and Public Purpose, will spearhead the focal event: “Between the First and Second Amendments.”

Scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. in Room 232 of the HUB-Robeson Center, CAS Postdoctoral Scholar Brad Serber said the event’s topic was chosen to reflect timely news events, particularly issues at the forefront of the presidential election.

“The goal is to have conversations around the First and Second Amendments — not necessarily to get one perspective, but actually to have multiple perspectives and deliberate about the spaces between those amendments,” said Serber, who serves as the coordinator for the intercollege minor in civic and community engagement.

Provocations written by 14 faculty and graduate students addressing topics such as race relations and immigration policies will also serve as a stepping stone for conversation among students, Serber said. They will be condensed into a slideshow for the purpose of the event, but full versions are available here.

Serber said student-produced posters will be on display, further raising questions and spotlighting the blurred boundaries of the First and Second Amendments.

Pocket-sized copies of the Constitution will be distributed to the first 1,700 attendees.

Rosa Eberly, an associate professor of CAS and English and a lead planner for Friday's festivities, said Constitution Day serves as a “basic exercise in citizenship and scholarship.”

“Most of the students I’ve encountered at universities in the United States have not even read the Constitution,” said Eberly, who also serves as the director for the intercollege minor in civic and community engagement. “So, the sad fact remains that if you don’t know what your rights are — and if you don’t know it’s the document that constituted us a people, perfectly or imperfectly — you don’t have the basic foundation to be a citizen in a democracy.”

A Constitution Day exhibit can be viewed on the second floor of the Paterno Library, offering a brief overview of the day’s historical significance. "Understanding the U.S. Constitution is key to participation in the civic life of this country. The University Libraries has a long history of promoting research and understanding of the Constitution through its collections and through exhibits. Constitution Day is one opportunity for us to reach out to students and faculty and provide them with copies of the constitution and basic information through our research guides. This is particularly important during presidential election years," said Helen Sheehy, associate librarian.

Penn State Universities Libraries has also prepared a guide to Constitution Day, outlining authoritative texts and analyses pertaining to the document and its history. The guide includes links to other official websites, including those of the National Constitution Center and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Across Penn State campuses, events will be held throughout the month of September. Highlights include voter registration tables, U.S. Constitution trivia, and special presentations by faculty members and community leaders. Visit local campus event pages for details on Penn State’s Constitution Day celebrations.

For more information, contact Eberly at rhosa@psu.edu or Serber at serberus@psu.edu

Last Updated December 06, 2016