On March 20 and 21, Central European University (CEU) hosted representatives from CIVICA universities to initiate the next phase of work together focused on service to society initiatives across the alliance. These activities, which aim to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, entail three main areas: action for marginalized groups, access to higher education and dissemination of research to the wider public through the Tours d’Europe Public Lecture Series.
The service to society working group, endearingly nicknamed “the heart of CIVICA,” is led by Flora Lazslo, CEU’s Director of Community Engagement, who facilitated the two days of exchange. "I'm looking forward to implementing impactful projects together, which serve our local and greater societies,” said Laszlo. “Besides the joint creation, I'm also looking forward to learning from colleagues who are working at alliance member universities."
Also supporting the working group and meetings as co-organizers are Anastasia Theologou, WP7 Program Officer, and Dunja Milenkovic, WP7 Coordinator, both of whom are first generation students and staff at CEU. Their presence and participation is particularly valuable in the working group for which first generation students compose a key constituency served by the group’s activities.
The gathering included presentations surveying the service to society programs to date, as well as outlining the next steps across focus areas. One of the highlights from CIVICA’s pilot phase, was that 1,015 students participated in high school activities across the alliance, designed to attract secondary school students from marginalized groups to higher education during critical decision-making years.
The high school activities include screenings of CIVICA’s Peer to Peer videos, illuminating the stories of students from different backgrounds and first-generation students who have overcome hardships during their educational paths as a way to encourage underprivileged young peers to continue their studies. Additionally, the Role models in Higher Education video series led by Bocconi University spotlighted six young CIVICA graduates from who raise awareness of the importance of higher education and international mobility featuring active citizenship and employability throughout Europe.
Another objective for the working group is reinforcing inclusive higher education environments, toward which a series of trainings building upon past workshops and alliance discussions on inclusion in higher education will continue to facilitate exchanges of best practices. The main goal of these workshops is to cultivate a more socially sensitive CIVICA community by training faculty, students and staff.
One of the more recently developed activities is CIVICA For All, a platform designed to serve students with refugee backgrounds and those who have been displaced. CIVICA For All connects participants using Whaller, a chat and group conversation tool hosted on my.CIVICA.edu – the alliance-wide intranet. Here, students navigating challenges in the higher education process can find relocation resources, scholarship opportunities, job prospects and a community of CIVICA colleagues.
Toward the end of the gathering, CEU’s CIVICA Ambassadors, Alphonse Ndayisaba and Lena Ibishi, took the stage to share their experiences as student representatives for the alliance. They recently returned from meeting the ambassador cohort in Warsaw, Poland, a gathering to advance projects within the alliance. Ndayisaba’s words particularly activated the room, articulating the vital importance of CIVICA’s service to society mission. He shared his story of displacement as a refugee, his trajectory to university education at CEU through the OLIve program, and his call to action directly addressing the working group: “My homework for you is to consider how we can provide access to the university. When I see a room like this full of people together, I see power. I am asking you for your help in creating initiatives that will help guide and support refugees and displaced people across higher education.”