Penn State to Commemorate Constitution Day on Monday
By Jeremy Cohen, Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK – New classes, new friends and Saturday football are familiar Happy Valley fall traditions. On Monday,, Penn State students will celebrate what has become in its sixth year another autumn campus tradition — the thoughtful commemoration of the 1787 creation and signing of the United States Constitution.
Constitution Day is a national day of educational programming enacted by Congress. Special, but no longer unique to the University Park campus event, is the use of “writers’ blocks” — geometric structures designed by students that raise constitutional questions and provide surface area for the public to share observations and opinions. “The blocks bring students into some of the most important citizenship conversations of our time,” according to Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Education Jeremy Cohen.
This year the blocks will prompt discussions of voting rights, health care and the meaning of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, topics that were developed by the student government and in discussions with faculty, staff and alumni, Cohen said.
The Office of Undergraduate Education commissioned Associate Professor Peter Aeschbacher’s 2007 Art and Design Studio class to create a means to celebrate Constitution Day. The first-year studio class conceptualized and built three installations. This year, Penn State’s Brandywine and Mont Alto campuses and Bard College in New York also will display writers’ blocks. The installations received the Education Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in 2008.
Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis wrote that “public discussion is a political duty,” Cohen noted. “For a few hours each year our constitutional commemoration turns the University into the kind of public commons America’s founders saw as key to democracy,” he added.
The writers’ blocks will be installed Monday morning by student crews in front of the HUB-Robeson Center, on the Palmer Museum of Art plaza and in front of Pattee Library’s steps. Local groups have been invited to conduct nonpartisan voter registration on campus as part of Constitution Day, and the Office of Undergraduate Education will distribute nearly two-thousand copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.