By Clara Turnage
University of Mississippi
University of Mississippi junior Caroline Leonard will spend the next year learning how to make large-scale positive change in the world as one of the 2023 cohort of Campus Compact’s Newman Civic Fellows.
Leonard, a junior majoring in Arabic and international studies, is among 154 student leaders chosen from 38 states, Mexico and Washington, D.C., to participate in virtual and in-person training and networking opportunities during the yearlong fellowship.
Campus Compact is a coalition of colleges and universities striving to advance the public impact of higher education. University presidents in the coalition recommend students from their institutions who stand out for their dedication to civic engagement and creating positive change in their community or region.
UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce wrote the letter of recommendation for the Ocean Springs native.
“She is a student leader active in voter education, voter rights and sustainability efforts,” Boyce said in the letter. “She aims to use her experiences and interests to collaborate with others to solve problems facing our communities, such as equity, environmental issues, public health issues, poverty and literacy.”
Leonard is the campus team lead for the Andrew Goodman Foundation’s efforts to increase voter participation and awareness. The Andrew Goodman Foundation, a national nonprofit, honors and continues the legacy of the late Andrew Goodman who, along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan during Freedom Summer 1964 for helping Black Mississippians register to vote.
As the team lead, Leonard organizes events to inform students on when and how to vote, where to vote and what their rights are on election day.
“I think it’s important that people know their rights, especially around voting,” Leonard said. “When you know that you have influence on these things and know that how you vote can impact how your representatives vote in Congress, that is empowering.
“Just knowing that you have these rights means you have some political control of your life and the world around you.”
Leonard was instrumental in transitioning the foundation’s presence at Ole Miss from one or two ambassadors to a network of students in a registered campus organization in 2021, said William Teer, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement and adviser for the student ambassadors to the Andrew Goodman Foundation.
“Her unwavering resolution to do what she needs to do to get students involved in the democratic process has been really motivating,” Teer said. “Caroline is determined, passionate, unapologetic and clearly focused on her values and how all of that can be used to make her corner of the world a better place.”
Leonard is also organizing civic education workshops for high school students, the first of which she taught in Pontotoc last year. She first became engaged in civic leadership through a Model United Nations and mock Mississippi Legislature session in high school and said she wants to give the same opportunity to other students.
“One of the main inspirations for me and why I’m so interested in civic engagement is because of what I could do in high school, and that’s because of the mentors that were available to me and the opportunities we had,” she said. “What I’m interested to do is talk with high school students to show them an outlet of how to express opinions on the things that they want to see changed.”
Students engaged in civic leadership can sometimes feel dissuaded by lack of progress in the often-thankless field, Teer said. Leonard, however, has shown time and again that she will not be discouraged.
“Caroline has an ability to not be dismayed by barriers,” Teer said. “Even if she had not been selected for this, that would not have slowed her down at all.”