Celebrating the Constitution on Campus

Students and staff reflect on the law of the land on Constitution Day 2021

Celebrating the Constitution on Campus

Luke Bratton, [email protected]

Entering the 2020s was a bumpy ride for the United States. 

A pandemic, a summer of action and progress through the Black Lives Matter movement, an election which tore our nation apart and an assault on our Capitol all played out, creating chaos and division within the United States. 

One thing tied each of those events together: the evocation of the Constitution to make decisions, justify actions and explain why things work the way they do. 

The Constitution has often been evoked when it is felt that the government oversteps or needs to step in on a situation and when individuals feel their rights have been violated. 

While the Constiution is one of the most foundational documents in the history of the United States, its interpretation is also one of the most debated. 

In 2021, this document will turn 234 years old. On Friday, it will be commemorated on Constitution Day, which recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution and those who have become United States citizens. 

On Sept. 17, 1787, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the document into effect. From that day on, it has been an integral part of the American legal system and the American identity at large. 

Despite the Constitution’s significance in American history, of the 36 Gannon University students questioned, only 30% knew when Constitution Day is. 

Students also were asked if they had a basic understanding of the Constitution and whether they thought it remains a relevant document. All of the students questioned felt they had a general understanding of the Constitution, despite not knowing when Constitution Day actually is. 

Along with students, people who have devoted their careers and studies to the law and this document also were questioned. 

Bernadette Agresti, an associate professor in the legal studies and pre-law departments; Peter Agresti, an assistant professor in the legal studies and pre-law departments; and Mark Jubulis, Ph.D., an associate professor in the political science department, were all asked to reflect on the Constitution and its significance and relevance. 

Jubulis noted that the Constitution “is the longest standing document of its kind.” He characterized it as an experiment and noted the way it separated powers and created checks and balances, which he said are diminishing but are still in place today.

Peter Agresti spoke about it as a “foundational document” and added, “The fact we can have a conversation about it now is amazing.”

Bernadette Agresti said that it should be kept in the forefront of society to “set limits and boundaries on the government.” 

All three professors felt that students should try and understand the Constitution better and realize how it truly affects everyday life. Because it is so ingrained in American law and is referenced often in politics, they felt it is important for students to understand what it means to the United States. 

However, when asked, only 35% of students felt the Constitution was still relevant in 2021, and the same percentage felt it was only somewhat relevant.

“I feel that the Constitution is somewhat relevant today,” Katie Sherwin, a junior physical therapy major, said. “While it contains important information, it has also been hundred of years since it was first written.”

Each professor felt the Constitution must be taught better to students at a younger age and all throughout their educational experience. Schools are referencing the Constitution less and less, and few curriculums include constitutional analysis or interpretation. 

Jubulis said that the coequal branches are becoming less and less coequal, and this is often because of the lack of education by the citizens, a view that was shared by the professors.

When asked if they felt the Constitution was still relevant each professor gave a resounding “yes” in some way or other.  

However, the consensus among students was much less unanimous. Some felt the Constitution was not relevant at all, some thought it was only somewhat relevant and some thought it was extremely relevant. 

Thus, in 2021 yet another rift has formed. Perhaps individuals must take a step back from politics and view the Constitution as the document that has served our nation for 234 years and granted Americans the freedoms they indulge in.

The Constitution was intended by the Founding Fathers to be unifying, not divisive. 

“By design our Constitution was founded on and unites us through consensus,” Jubulis said.

It was also intended to be put to use for as long as the United States is a country. 

“It was always intended to be a living document,” Bernadette Agresti said. “That’s why it has an amendment process.”

What some might call a vague and living document breathes on to adapt to a new society. While opinions may differ, it is agreed upon that it is up to Americans to continue to put life into it or not. 

Soon, it will be the job of American citizens to use it for their benefit. for the reason it was written, rather than for divisiveness and discord. 

On Friday, appreciate the Constitution, read it over and understand its relevance today.


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