Managing “send her back”: civil discourse and educating for democracy as campus culture

  • Post category:9.1 / 9.1
  • Reading time:33 mins read


Until recently, East Carolina University (ECU) had a small culture of marches, protests, and other free speech actions. However, police-involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, followed by the 2016 summer of violence with the mass shooting in Orlando and more police-involved shootings in New York, Chicago, Minnesota, and Texas, dramatically changed the culture at ECU. During the 2016-17 academic year, ECU student organizations hosted more than 25 campus protests and demonstrations—relatively few compared to other institutions, but a large increase for our campus community. Even with wide-ranging topics — from Black Lives Matter to Turning Point USA speakers and rallies from Donald Trump and Bill Clinton — ECU experienced virtually no disruptions in service. Indeed, when the infamous “send her back” chant directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar emerged at a Trump rally on ECU’s campus, our institution found ways to quickly manage the fallout and move forward. Why? Civil discourse.

Through the combination of activities, events, and programmatic efforts, ECU has built a culture that actively engages students in conversations around difficult topics, building an inclusive climate with an eye toward institutionalization. This focused case-study explores how one campus devised comprehensive strategies to address student engagement and direct that interest into the college, community, civic, and public arenas. Specifically, this manuscript will address three broad campus-level efforts around civil discourse, voter mobilization, and democratic educational initiatives.

This three-part model includes both short-term student programs and long-term best practices. Our civil discourse efforts illustrate that teaching students within collegiate settings to deliberate and debate important societal issues assists them in their identity development as well as connects them to their civic responsibilities. Civil dialogues teach our students how to constructively disagree, but also encourage valuable skill development such as listening, counterpoint development, and compromise.

Why Civil Discourse Matters

In the summer of 2019, the president of the United States intensified his political rhetoric on four minority female members of Congress by suggesting they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came” instead of “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States” how to run the government (Rogers & Fandos, 2019 A1). Three days later, as the president addressed a crowd of supporters on the campus of East Carolina University, in Greenville, NC, chants of “send her back” erupted throughout the stadium, making national headlines the following morning. As the president’s motorcade departed for the airport, the city of Greenville, and particularly the campus of East Carolina University were left with a community deeply hurt, disappointed, and angry at the level of the rhetoric and what long-term effects it might have as students returned to campus in the fall.

Free speech is a right guaranteed to all Americans. It is protected and cherished, defended, and challenged every day across the United States. Free speech can present itself in many ways, in vocal and non-vocal displays. Over the last decade on higher education campuses, free speech has presented as marches, protests, walk-outs, sit-ins, and kneel-downs.

Civil discourse is closely aligned with free speech, with a significant difference: Free speech is a constitutional hallmark; civil discourse is an opportunity to create and/or enhance understanding. Due to the legal requirements of one and the mere suggestion of the other, it would be easy to create separation between free speech and civil discourse. This would be a mistake. Free speech activities, with the absence of civil discourse, can easily transition to police actions often called civil unrest, disturbances, or disorder. Civil discourse is an opportunity, but it can also be part of the solution to ease hostilities, soften emotions, and provide perspective before and/or during free speech activities.

Why do these efforts matter? A recent study supported by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation reported that engaged students continued as engaged young adults as far as 10 years from their graduation (Karriger et al, 2016). The study specifically cited high-impact practices that serve to train and sustain civic engagement. Ultimately, this paper highlights an evolving model of practice from one institution—rooted in these high-impact practices—from which higher education professionals can borrow and apply within their campus context.

Students are often the center for free speech activities, and they can and should also be the focal point for civil discourse. Civil discourse, when done effectively, can enhance understanding or more clearly deliver the intended message. The latter is often lost during broad, large-scale, and many times, disruptive activities. It is only when conversation takes place that hostilities can lessen and listening and empathy can occur.

Historically, over the last decade, civil discourse movements across higher education have increased. A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2012, represents the work of the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. The report encouraged a “Call to Action” that stressed higher education’s responsibility, in collaboration with our communities, to ensure that students have the skills and knowledge they need to become informed, civically engaged citizens. That engagement includes civil discourse and the need for colleges and universities to support, and most importantly, educate students on how to safely participate and professionally lead change. The report showed more than two-thirds of over 2,400 student respondents reported that they felt better prepared to have difficult political and social conversations because of their engagement in college.

The U.S. Census reports that less than 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds turn out to vote in national elections (File, 2017). This means higher education must start the conversations about civil discourse and engagement to empower students while on campus and beyond graduation. By offering an assortment of programs and initiatives centered on student mobilization, ECU has seen an increase in voter registration and engagement in national elections (35% increase in the 2016 presidential election over the 2012 election) and student government voter turnout (155% increase), as well as the development of a branded campaign, whose student-created video had more than 18,000 hits in the first three months.

Dating back to 1921, John Dewey (1981) stated that the development of citizens occurred through “doing” rather than simply “knowing,” which has served as a guiding principle for theorists of participatory democracy. In 2006, British researchers Gary Biesta and Robert Lawry argued in the Cambridge Journal of Education that educational institutions need to increase their efforts to understand and ultimately impact how young adults “learn democratic citizenship” (p. 64).

Teaching students within collegiate settings to deliberate and sometimes debate important societal issues assists them in their identity development as well as connects them to their civic responsibilities. Civil dialogues teach college students how to constructively disagree, but also encourage valuable skill development such as listening, counterpoint development, and compromise. Martha Nussbaum, of the University of Chicago, stated in her 2010 book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities that educational institutions are vital in the preparation of students as “complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements” (p. 2).

Higher education must also understand the evolution of our students and their natural connection with digital and electronic communication. Civil Discourse in the Age of Social Media, written by educational researchers Reynol Junco and Arthur Chickering in 2010, argued that with the popularity of newer, faster, and easier methods of online communication, all constituencies on college campuses, including students, will need to know how to engage one another “in constructive dialogue around different religious, political, racial/ethnic, and cultural issues” (p. x). If higher education chooses not to foster civil discourse or open difficult dialogue with college students, it is absurd to assume the conversations won’t be held. Social media is littered with uneducated rants, severe bias, and anonymous posts that can be better addressed if college campuses take the lead rather than sit back and deal with the fallout.

Higher education has a long-standing tradition of taking the lead on these calls to action. In Andrea Leskes’ 2013 A Plea for Civil Discourse: Needed, the Academy’s Leadership, she highlighted several best practices occurring around the United States:

  • Public dialogue and deliberation is an important part of Franklin Pierce University’s first-year seminar course, required for all incoming students, focusing on civil discourse engagement and ground rule development.
  • Emory University developed a series of faculty development programs on civil discourse, fostering dialogue across curriculums and disciplines.
  • The Society of Civil Discourse at Loyola University New Orleans created the Journal of Civil Discourse, which publishes articles from students, faculty, alumni, and outside professionals. Recently, Loyola added a civil discourse class that also contributes to the journal.

In 2014, SUNY–Albany began experimenting with open dialogue sessions at student and faculty events to encourage and guide conversations rather than presentations or lectures. This structure became so popular that Albany has begun to utilize this approach in their student conferences and has also spread to the State University of New York Student Assembly (statewide student government association) programs.

These types of civility programs and conversations are occurring at many colleges and universities around the world. Recent research demonstrates a direct connection between civil discourse and student learning. In 2005, the Review of Higher Education published a study from Robert Rhoads, Victor Saenz, and Rozana Carducci looking at how building strong coalitions at the University of Michigan directly correlated with student learning. The study reported that change occurred at a great level when the community partnered rather than worked in silos. In the 2014 New Directions for Higher Education: Radical Academia, Adrianna Kezar and Dan Maxey discussed their research on characteristics of successful institutions that support learning and civil discourse. One of the key practices they found was that formal and informal mission, goals, and curriculum are blended with the campus’ culture of social action and civil discourse. Studies such as these illustrate the importance of the connection between student learning and civil discourse.

Facilitating Civil Discourse

Until recently, East Carolina University had a small culture of marches, protests, and other free speech actions. However, police-involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, followed by the 2016 summer of violence with the mass shooting in Orlando and more police officer-involved shootings in New York, Chicago, Minnesota, Texas, and Louisiana dramatically changed the culture at East Carolina University (ECU). During the 2016-17 academic year, ECU students and student organizations hosted more than 25 campus protests and demonstrations—few compared to many other institutions, but a large increase for our community. Despite the range of topics from Black Lives Matter to campus speakers, ECU experienced virtually no disruption to service or the protest, march, public speech, or activity itself, and no police intervention was required. Why? Civil discourse.

At the start of the 2016 spring semester, ECU students and organizations began to develop a new culture around campus protests and related activity but seemed to lack the fundamentals involved. At the same time, ECU student affairs educators recognized the culture shift occurring and began to develop a parallel culture centered on civil discourse. Student affairs leadership understood their role wasn’t to prevent disagreement but to empower students’ voices. ECU’s focus wasn’t to create division or control a situation, but rather to build coalitions that enable and equip students with the necessary resources to discuss opposing or controversial viewpoints through civil discourse.

At ECU, the aforementioned efforts led to the development of best practices that guided a community focused on civil discourse. Based on our institution’s definition of leadership—“A relational process of inspiring, empowering, and influencing positive change”—ECU student affairs educators successfully engaged and educated students on how civil discourse supports free speech through speakers, conferences, town halls, policies, and programs (Komives, Lucas, McMahon, 2009, p. 74). This type of practice and engagement within educational research is frequently entitled “civic identity.” Dewey (1981) defined civic identity development as requiring active reflection and participation in what he termed “moral rehearsals.”

As is true across higher education, these “moral rehearsals” at ECU have involved speakers and programs that discuss topics such as religion, culture, socioeconomic status, the environment, gender equity, race relations, and the LGBTQ+ community. Since 2012, the university has welcomed a diverse group of high-interest guest speakers, programs, town halls, and other activities that allow students and community members to share personal and professional perspectives on leadership, service, business, politics, social action, social justice, and literary works. These experiences are presented in many different styles and formats from lectures to presentations and discussions to debates. During the last five years, more than 25,000 students have participated in over 200 student-focused programs. When emotion is harnessed it moves students and communities to overcome fear and address the real issues in hopes of finding solutions.

There are many factors that East Carolina University expects both student affairs areas as well as student organizations to consider during the development and creation of these events. First and foremost is to keep the goal or desired outcome at the focus of the program/expressive activity. Additionally, emotion can serve as both a strength and a hindrance to civil discourse. When emotion is harnessed it moves students and communities to overcome fear and address the real issues in hopes of finding solutions. When that same emotion is uncontrolled, it can blind others with anger and vengeance, which seldom leads to long-term solutions. Much like free speech, procedures, policies, and programs must be consistent and support each other, ensuring that the entire community both understands and appreciates the importance of civil discourse.

The East Carolina department of Student Involvement & Leadership (that includes Greek Life, Student Activities & Organizations, and the Center for Leadership & Civic Engagement, Intercultural Affairs, Student Centers, Student Government Association, and Student Activities Board) in the Division of Student Affairs, requires organizations and units to complete detailed pre-approval and risk management forms before organizing an event or signing a contract with a speaker. These forms outline costs, marketing plans, and attendance estimates, as well as identify potential safety risks. As a start to building a culture of civil discourse, ECU began to modify these policies and practices to include risk management questions around protests and demonstrations. It now requires the organizers, organizations, and departments to connect their program goals to both the university’s three strategic commitments (public service, student success, and regional transformation) and to our student affairs values (student-centered, inclusion, integrity, respect, service, and excellence). This manner of advance preparatory effort also allows for students and student organizations to work with, not against, campus police to ensure the safest environment possible.

Political scientist Harry Boyte (2012) wrote in a blog post for the HuffPost that it is vital for colleges to be “part of communities, not simply ‘partners with’ communities, overcoming the culture of detachment” that too often characterizes colleges and their locales. Continuing our development of a community that values civil discourse, the division has begun to create programming in support of this culture. These types of community-based civil discourse programs have been a priority for the Division of Student Affairs for the past year. Our belief, as supported across the higher education community, is that students and their organizations are modeling the behavior found at the national level, which is anything but civil. Our goal was to create new programs that would model civil discourse and would supplement the growing activity found within our student community. These programs encourage students to challenge each other, listen intently to differing perspectives, and focus on the goals of suspending judgment, building coalitions, and searching for solutions. Further, these conversations introduce a concept that today’s college students don’t seem to grasp well. Listen to a conflicting opinion, challenge that opinion respectfully, and if disagreement remains, walk away.

The NC Civility Summit developed from conversations among major student organizations (Student Government Association, the Black Student Union, and Student Activities Board) and student affairs staff. ECU students wanted to engage each other and the greater university and Greenville communities in open dialogue on issues from human trafficking to trans rights. The division built a program to both engage in these discussions and illustrate the importance of doing so civilly. This annual program invites students, faculty, staff, and guests from other institutions and communities to join ECU students in civil discourse focused on expanding dialogue and building solutions. Our job is to create a platform, empower students, and then get out of the way and let them lead.

The same can be said for our Cupola Conversations program, which proactively sets up topical panel discussions with students and community members on issues that are living in the current moment. The program was organized to start a dialogue around the 2016 summer of violence in Orlando, Paris, Chicago, and other places and to make sure students were aware of resources that were available on campus and in the community. As with the NC Civility Summit, Cupola Conversations has two goals: The first is to engage in discussions around important issues, and the second is to demonstrate and model how to engage in civil discourse. Cupola Conversations schedules six conversations that occur throughout the academic year with one each semester occurring over Facebook Live to include the larger global community of students, alumni, and campus community, yet remains nimble enough to also respond to emerging issues.

Indeed, within a matter of days of the president’s rally, ECU student affairs staff began discussing how the first Cupola Conversation for fall semester 2019 would address free speech, the university’s obligations as a state institution, and the importance of civil discourse to tamp down divisive rhetoric and foster constructive dialogue. On the second day of fall classes, just one month after “send her back” chants shook the campus, region, and nation, a Cupola Conversation was held featuring a panel comprised of the Interim Chancellor, a divisional vice-chancellor, an academic dean, and the Student Government Association president. As a result of ECU’s intentional efforts to promote civil discourse, administrators had a ready-built framework and forum designed to address the situation; allow students, faculty, and staff to express themselves freely and openly; and provided an inclusive space for cross-community dialogue. Embedding events such as these into the fabric of university programming allows the university to intentionally and authentically lead the way in promoting civil discourse centered around contemporary issues, while simultaneously being flexible enough to react and respond to emerging hot topics that could otherwise erupt and inflame the community with discord and incivility.

Our culture has changed and both programs have received local and state attention and have resulted in East Carolina University and the city of Greenville being identified as leaders in student empowerment, community involvement, and civil discourse. These programs and policy additions, centered on civil discourse, have led to an increase in voter engagement in national elections, student government participation, and student-led dialogue initiatives in partnership with senior administrators. Continued plans to grow our culture of civil discourse include student organization training sessions on conducting successful protests and demonstrations, a civil speaker series, and annual Play for Peace Concert.

These coalitions are built not on issues but rights because student organizations are talking and listening to each other to enact positive change as it states in East Carolina’s leadership definition. Franklin McCain, a member of the Greensboro Four who staged the sit-in protest in February 1960, spoke at ECU in 2013 about how civil discourse can create positive change in society. His death in 2014 didn’t mean the conversation ended. The people delivering the messages may change, but the topics, and now most importantly these types of civil conversations, will continue, and higher education and student affairs must play an active role in ensuring, teaching, and preserving civil discourse.

Voter Mobilization

Up until 2015, ECU offered very few formal programming opportunities for students centered around voter engagement activities. While ECU actively promoted the value of participating in local, regional, and federal elections, we put few resources toward this effort. Either because of concern about a “slippery slope” approach to voter engagement—where we might tread into politically difficult territory as a public institution—or other resources and activities taking priority, this had simply not been an area of emphasis for our student affairs professionals.

However, during summer 2015, the Andrew Goodman Foundation—a nonprofit that promotes increasing youth voter turnout during elections and informed voting—approached our civic engagement office with a grant offer. This grant provided two paid student positions and a small programming budget. A year later, we received an additional grant from the Campus Vote Project through the Fair Elections Center to focus on student voting issues. Through its Democracy Fellowship program, the Campus Vote Project provides funds to student leaders to influence and support democratic engagement work happening on our campus. As a result of receiving these grants and student support, the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) at ECU developed a voter engagement plan centered on a three-tiered approach of voter registration, education, and mobilization. This plan detailed partnerships with governmental relations staff, student government representatives, and civic engagement, leadership, and service educators on campus, to build a coalition to coordinate efforts.

Throughout the summer and fall 2016 semester, CLCE prepared for, developed relationships with, and educated students on the importance of voting and how to vote. This included purchasing TurboVote, an online “one-stop-shop” voter registration, and engagement service. Using TurboVote, students could register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, or update their address. Our promotion and education of this service was critical to the success of registration efforts on campus. The service also provided text message and email reminders for every election, local or national, including polling place, election dates, and form submission deadlines. The focus on the 2016 general election served as a foundation for continuing voter engagement work at East Carolina University. CLCE worked to organize the university’s first voter engagement coalition for students, faculty, and staff in fall 2016. The purpose of the coalition was to create a diverse cross-section of stakeholders at the university to promote voter engagement throughout their networks to advance and increase this work institutionally. Many offices and departments across campus promoted various voter engagement events, and the coalition aimed to connect and promote these events through weekly updates.

CLCE worked with university transit to establish a partnership focused on voter mobilization. The primary goal was to create a designated bus route to run between a minimum of three polling precincts where students were most likely to vote based on precinct assignments. Secondary goals included the addition of stops to current bus routes at polling locations and the distribution of educational materials regarding where to vote based on address. An additional objective of this partnership was to promote polling precincts on bus routes during election day. Two buses ran between 9:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to four polling locations on and off-campus, exceeding our initial goal of three polling locations. Approximately 250 students utilized this service throughout the day. CLCE continued to offer this service for the midterm elections in 2018.

Since 2016, our staff and students have worked closely with the local board of elections through attending monthly meetings, holding individual educational meetings for employees, residence hall address verification, and creating resources for students. This relationship proved beneficial in moving a one-stop early voting polling location to the new student center for the 2019 municipal elections and 2020 primary elections. One-stop voting (commonly known as “early voting”) allows any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in person on select days before election day and has been an important initiative in North Carolina for several years. In total, 1,763 people voted at the student center site in the 2020 primary, which is 14.1% of all voters in the county. For the 2019 municipal elections, a total of 775 people voted at the same site (18.2% of all voters in the county). According to our 2016 report from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) from the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University, the number of our students who voted early increased by 3.6% between the 2012 and 2016 election. Early voting was the most popular method of voting for our students, accounting for 58.9% of total votes. ECU regularly uses the NSLVE data reports to assess our democratic engagement efforts and helps inform and identify areas for improvement in our democratic engagement initiatives.

ECU is currently prioritizing the work of democratic and voter engagement efforts on campus and has the support of upper administration and national partners such as the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Campus Vote Project, and the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition.

Democratic Educational Initiatives

Institutions of higher education have long committed to preparing students for civic life by being contributing and productive citizens. According to Branson (1998), “there is no more important task than the development of an informed, effective, and responsible citizenry.” It is a shared responsibility among educators to find ways to incorporate civic education into the daily lives of students, both inside and outside the classroom. Educational opportunities can be effective in influencing students’ civic habits and values while they are still relatively young (Sherrod et al., 2002). We have several relevant forms of civic education within our institution, including service-learning, civic action, deliberative dialogue, and courses within the curriculum.

At East Carolina University, the primary responsibility of democratic engagement falls under the responsibilities of the CLCE. While not solely responsible for hosting, promoting, or implementing democratic engagement initiatives, this is the only entity on campus where democratic engagement is included within the mission and vision of the center. Service, leadership, and democratic engagement commitments range from one-time events to weekly, semester-long opportunities, to intensive immersion experiences. All opportunities are designed with an educational focus to support students as they learn about themselves and their community, take action through leadership and civic engagement, and advocate for lasting positive social change. CLCE works in a non-partisan way to bring programming to students that encourage them to be engaged in our democracy and active responsible citizens. Democratic engagement programs include voter registration events, a trending topic political film series, opportunities for civil dialogue, and a semester-long citizens’ academy. ECU’s citizenship education efforts, including civic leadership programs, speakers, and a semester-long, co-curricular seminar called “Citizen U,” are designed to help students reflect on their role within an engaged democracy. We heed Barber’s (1992) encouragement to educate students in the “arts of democracy” and build on the long tradition of citizenship education so this practice is passed intentionally from one generation to the next.

Citizen U is an innovation in campus-community partnerships that support civic and political engagement. The purpose of Citizen U is to educate students about how to be responsible, engaged citizens, and to inspire them to be involved in their communities and our democracy as change agents. The curriculum includes information about state and local government, how to be civically and democratically engaged, what it means to be a responsible citizen, as well as media and personal financial literacy. Our partners involved in the implementation of Citizen U include representatives from the Political Science department, city officials, local board of elections, university attorney, School of Communication, and local businesses and civic organizations. CLCE identified student learning outcomes and student leadership competencies based on Corey Seemiller’s work (2013), as well as the Social Change Model of Leadership Development.

Citizen U falls under a larger movement at East Carolina University. What started as a grassroots student movement in 2016, ECUnited has developed to be far more than a simple hashtag. ECUnited challenges the ECU community to bridge the worlds of ideas and actions. Through its programs, advocacy, and education, the movement works to deepen the understanding of the issues that impact our local and global communities. This movement serves as the home for current and future initiatives that fit within this ideal including the NC Civility Summit and Cupola Conversations. As the ECUnited campaign grows, additional programs have been created to fit under this common theme — Netflix & Chat, Cultural Cuisine & Chat, What’s the Tea, Green DOT, and The Conversation.

With an institutional focus on global learning as a key objective across the curriculum in 2017, we provided leadership for both domestic and international service-learning and global learning assessment. This educational approach sits at the intersection of intercultural learning, experiential education, and civic engagement. Sumka, Porter, and Piacitelli (2015) note that “global learning denotes any learning that raises awareness of global connectedness, regardless of boundaries” (p. 301). With this approach in mind, we have offered some training opportunities for faculty to learn more about global service-learning as a teaching methodology. Additionally, we have incorporated the Global Engagement Survey into our domestic and international immersion programming, the ECU Leads leadership certificate (a three-year program that introduces students to both leadership theory and experiential leadership learning), and LeaderShape programs. Our approach to educating students on the value of global connectedness is directly connected to how we educate students to be engaged citizens.


The Division of Student Affairs at East Carolina University is developing and embedding civic learning and democratic engagement on campus through a framework of programming and action that includes an understanding of democratic values, capacities to engage diverse perspectives and people, and commitment to collective civic problem-solving. The call for civic engagement and civil discourse has awakened a renewed interest in promoting institutional citizenship, building new campus-community initiatives, and promoting a broad sense of civic responsibility in higher education. Through the combination of activities, events, and programmatic efforts, East Carolina University has built a culture that actively engages students in conversations around difficult topics, building an inclusive climate with an eye toward institutionalization. Indeed, this institutional effort is one of many reasons why ECU could respond to the “send her back” controversy in a genuine manner that does not feel forced onto students. Cupola Conversations are yet one of many initiatives where students know ECU promotes myriad opportunities for dialogue and disagreement, reducing the likelihood that the campus will erupt in violence or fan the flames of incivility.

These civil discourse efforts illustrate that teaching students within a collegiate setting to deliberate and debate important societal issues assists them in their identity development as well as connects them to their civic responsibilities. Civil dialogues teach our students how to constructively disagree, but also encourage valuable skill development such as listening, counterpoint development, and compromise. Not only does this approach help shape a culture within student affairs and among student affairs educators, but it also forges pathways for partnerships with faculty colleagues. Experiential learning activities can reflexively support opportunities for classroom dialogues, and classroom settings can provide a curricular foundation for applied civic learning. Campuses that engage in dialogue create communities of understanding and informed decision-making, enhance student learning and skill development, and address students’ sense of belonging.


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Dennis McCunney, Ph.D. serves as the Director of Intercultural Affairs and adjunct faculty member of ECU’s Leadership Studies Minor and Master of Public Administration Program. Dr. McCunney earned his PhD in Higher Education Administration from Morgan State University and his dissertation focus was on the formation of student culture around civic engagement, leadership and activism. Dr. McCunney has presented his research in various arenas, including the Global Service-Learning Summit, Leadership Educators Institute, and the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. Recent publications include articles in AAC&U’s Diversity & Democracy (special issue on undergraduate public health), Metropolitan Universities Journal and Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is JTuchmayer.pngJeremy B. Tuchmayer, Ph.D. is senior associate director of Student Affairs Assessment, Research, and Planning at East Carolina University. In his professional capacity, Dr. Tuchmayer primarily studies institutional factors that predict retention, persistence, and degree attainment. His broader research agenda examines the ways in which state and institutional policies and structures facilitate student success, as well as labor market effects, graduate school aspirations, and commitment to civic and community engagement of recent college graduates. Dr. Tuchmayer earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University, and his doctorate degree in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from North Carolina State University.

Tara Kermiet is the Associate Director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement at East Carolina University.  She currently provides leadership, vision, and strategy for leadership development, community engagement and democratic engagement initiatives at ECU.  Prior to her time at ECU, Tara served as the Assistant Director of University Commons & Student Involvement at the University of West Florida, a Residential Learning Coordinator at Virginia Tech and as the Director of Student Activities and Service at LaGrange College.  She received her M.Ed. in Higher Education Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina and her B.A. in Communication from Virginia Tech. She will begin pursuing her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Fall 2020.

Erik Kneubuehl, Ed.D. currently serves as Associate Vice Chancellor at East Carolina University as well as the institution’s Free Speech Deputy. With over 25 years of experience in Student Affairs, he has held leadership positions at Virginia Tech, Florida Atlantic University, and SUNY Maritime College, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. Outside of his institution, Dr. Kneubuehl is engaged in NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education), local community boards, and presents nationally on civil discourse, conflict resolution, and team cohesion. Originally from the Bronx, Dr. Kneubuehl is the first person in eight generations to earn a college degree with a bachelor’s from Florida Atlantic University, as well as a master’s from the University of South Carolina and a doctorate in organization leadership from Northeastern University.

Chris Stansbury is in his 14th year at East Carolina University. Since 2015, he has been serving as the Associate Vice Chancellor and Senior Operating Officer (Chief of Staff) for the Division of Student Affairs. In addition to his Chief of Staff responsibilities, which includes overseeing University Commencement, Chris supervises the Office of Student Transitions (including new student and transfer orientations, convocation and the first year seminar), ECU Student Media, Technology Support, Student Veteran Services and Divisional Communications. Before returning to his alma mater in 2007, Chris worked for the New Bern Police Department (NC) as the Public Information Officer. Prior to that role, he was an Emmy Award winning television broadcaster in Greenville, NC and Nashville, TN for 11 years.