Empowering Student Leaders: Lessons from Compact24

Newman Civic Fellow, Alex Edgar, wrote about their experience highlighting how students are often marginalized in higher education discussions, but organizations like Campus Compact, exemplified by their Compact 24 conference, are empowering students to lead and engage meaningfully in civic and educational advancements.

In the higher education space, students should rightfully be at the forefront of discussions about its present and future. Yet, all too often, we find ourselves relegated to the sidelines, our voices minimized or tokenized to fulfill a checkbox for administrators and practitioners. I have seen this trend throughout my advocacy experience as External Affairs Vice President of the ASUC, UC Berkeley’s student government, underscoring a systemic issue where student perspectives are undervalued and underrepresented in higher education. These experiences often push students out of the advocacy space, where their voices are most needed.

Fortunately, there are incredible organizations like Campus Compact that have been allies for students across the country in ensuring that our voices and visions are incorporated into higher education. The recent Compact 24 conference, themed “Now is the Moment: Higher Education Civic & Community Engagement as the Way Forward” in Denver was a perfect example of how Campus Compact effectively brings students to the table. I was honored to be chosen as one of Alexthe conference speakers, presenting “New Voters, New Ideas: A Gen Z Guide to Reaching Gen Z Students,” a 1-hour 45-minute long knowledge-to-action intensive workshop focused on educating current higher education leaders on how to better engage their student bodies with our democracy. My co-presenter, Saanvi Arora, and I delved into the lived experiences of our generation, shed light on the shortcomings of current civic outreach strategies, and unveiled a roadmap to foster genuine and enduring youth engagement in higher education. Having the opportunity to share our lived experiences and expertise, and being treated as experts by the practitioners in the room was an incredibly empowering experience, and one that I hope more students will have access to through Campus Compact and other spaces. 

Beyond the enriching experience of presenting, I’d have to say my favorite part of the conference was having the opportunity to learn from and meet so many incredible people from across the country who are all dedicated to making a difference in the lives of students. As a student, it is incredibly inspiring to see the sheer number and talent of the people in the room, especially given the recent attacks on DEI and civics across the country. Seeing all of these civic superheroes gathered in one place made me optimistic about the future of higher education despite all of the difficulties we are currently facing. From the eye-opening panels to the interest-based networking sessions, I truly learned so much at Compact24 and am so grateful to all of the attendees and organizers for making sure the other students and I felt like equals.

Since Compact24, I have already been hard at work trying to infuse the lessons I learned from the conference into my work at UC Berkeley. Additionally, I have been lucky to stay in touch with many of the wonderful people I met at Compact24 and have been able to form new partnerships to support our shared goals. I really couldn’t be more grateful to Campus Compact for providing this opportunity to grow my skills and network while having fun at the same time!

To any students reading, or youth allies who can help, I highly recommend you attend Compact25 next year! It’s an incredible opportunity to meet inspirational leaders from across the country who are forging new paths in student-centered, community-oriented, civic engagement in higher education! See you there!