Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017), pp 25-27
“All of humankind originated in Africa,” our tour guide, Richard Randall, announced as he greeted us in Johannesburg, “so I want to welcome you home.” This reminder of our shared ancestry, as distant as it may be, set the theme for this year’s Democracy Project field experience in South Africa. In the summer of 2017, fourteen students from Southern Oregon University (SOU) traveled to South Africa as part of SOU’s Democracy Project. Involving students, faculty members, and community partners, the Democracy Project (DP) is a comprehensive international examination of democracy organized by the SOU Honors College. To solve shared challenges of the twenty-first century, emerging student leaders need a solid understanding of conflict resolution and of how democracy is understood, implemented, and promoted around the world. The DP is consistent with the mission and vision statements of Southern Oregon University and the honors college as it supports “intellectual growth” and “responsible global citizenship.” Some of the issues studied through the DP include the historical evolution of democracy, sovereignty, freedom, nationalism, citizenship, immigration, patriotism, imperialism, colonialism, liberty, security, justice, and equality. DP participants examine criteria in the Democracy Index and articles in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They compare and contrast the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights with national constitutions around the world, keeping in mind questions such as “what is the proper role of government?” and “in a democracy, what is the appropriate balance between individual liberties and human rights?” Our educational experience in South Africa is the fourth field trip of the DP. Expanding from the first field trip to Washington, D.C., previous international DP field trips have studied India, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Through conversations with journalists, professors, university students, and business leaders, these field trips have been organized so that students will better understand how democracy is structured and practiced on various jurisdictional levels.