Campus Civic Poet Award was born from students ‘demanding accountability’

Award celebrates civic engagement, poetry, inclusivity



The deadline to submit pieces of work is Tuesday.

PUNEET BSANTI, Deputy news editor

The Campus Civic Poet Award was relaunched this year for students of diverse voices. The award was inspired by those who protested the replica of former President Donald Trump’s wall in 2016 through slam poetry.

The Campus Civic Poet Award is a collaboration between the WSU English department, the Martin Luther King Program and Undocumented Initiatives to celebrate civic engagement, said Linda Russo, a scholarly associate professor in the English department. Students address issues that concern themselves and the public through spoken word poetry. 

“The Campus Civic Poet Award was born out of the voices of students on this campus demanding accountability from the administration, faculty and fellow students [regarding] the racism that [people of color] students encountered in the classroom and on campus more generally,” Russo said. 

The Campus Civic Poet was created when Russo, English instructor Bryan Fry and Donna Potts, chair of the English department, had a creative writing meeting to figure out ways to support and advocate for students during a time when many felt they did not fit in at WSU. 

“We got together and it was clear that we were like, ‘we need to do something. How do we support students because we care?’” Fry said.

Russo said the award is meant to be inclusive of all voices, and it invites students to use their passion for poetry to bring important issues to light through civic engagement.

Marcela Pattinson, the director of Undocumented Initiatives, said the center partnered up with the English department and the MLK Program to bring awareness to different students’ experiences through art or words. 

“I think that we want to invite and challenge our students to be able to communicate and to be able to really put themselves out there and learn from one another,” she said. 

When a student wins, they get to sit down with those who selected them for the award and talk about their vision regarding civic engagement. Then, a mentor is selected to guide them on their aspirations, said Fry.

There were four previous awardees such as WSU alumna Allyson Pang, who reached out to 50 people to ask them what makes them happy and used their answers for a spoken-word video poem, said Russo. 

“’I’m personally excited to read the submissions and work with my colleagues and peers in the working group, who are both community members in the larger community, and WSU,” Russo said. 

The awardee will receive $500 from the Campus Civic Poet Award with a chance to participate in the main event of the MLK Program’s annual celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The award recognizes students for exploring how art influenced the nonviolent resistance of MLK’s activism as well as equity now, said Allen Sutton, executive director of the Office of Outreach and Education.

“This program is important because it’s our hope to showcase that we are surrounded by students, who are cultural and community leaders, and activists who work toward the advancement of a peaceful and just society,” Sutton said. 

The deadline for the award is Tuesday and students can email three to five pieces of original work to [email protected]