ENACT is a non-partisan program, based at Brandeis University, addressing challenges to American democracy by engaging young people around the country in state-level legislative change based on a shared commitment to knowledge, cooperation, justice and integrity.
Is government dysfunctional? Can change come through the legislative process?
Brandeis University namesake Louis D. Brandeis suggested that the states can be “laboratories of democracy.”
ENACT: The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation, a national program based at Brandeis
University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public
Life, takes inspiration in part from that idea.
At the core of ENACT are courses taught by ENACT Faculty Fellows at colleges and universities across the country, supported by a national in-person and online network connecting the faculty and staff in those courses with each other. Students learn through direct engagement in the work of advancing legislation: researching the issues being debated, meeting with community organizations, and traveling to the state capital to meet with legislators. They develop sophisticated understandings of the political domain, learn to distill political information, and acquire political efficacy. Many ENACT alumni go on to pursue public service and public office.
Participating schools represent a diverse range of higher education institutions. They are linked through an online network that enhances student learning, connects them with people active in the field, and provides an opportunity for ENACT faculty and students to inspire and instruct others who are committed to engaging in effective, ethical state-level legislative change.
- Workshop: Under the leadership of the program’s
Fellows meet in person to
share ideas and work on course development. In-person and virtual meetings continue on an ongoing basis.
- Courses: In ENACT courses undergraduates learn about the legislative process at the state level, with a substantial hands-on component in which they engage directly in that process. ENACT courses take many forms, depending on the expertise of the faculty member, the composition of the student body, and the nature of access to the state capital. The ENACT course at Brandeis University offers one model, but ENACT fellows bring their own creativity and innovation to their courses. See the full list of ENACT schools.
- Online Network: The enactnetwork.org digital resource sharing platform is a key component of the ENACT Network, a national in-person and online network of students, faculty, activists and legislators. It is a strategic and information hub for students, ENACT Faculty Fellows, and other state-level players that enables them to connect with counterparts throughout the country, share resources and collaborate.
- Other Initiatives: ENACT supports pilot projects and other initiatives related to its mission. For example, in 2019-20 ENACT partnered with the Heller School for Social Policy and Management to pilot the ENACT Labor Network. Faculty members and students in four states focused specifically on labor legislation on a year-round basis with support from the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice.
ENACT was made possible by a generous gift from International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life Board member Norbert Weissberg and his wife, former Board member Judith Schneider. ENACT has also received support from the Rice Family Foundation, and from Ethics Center Board member Mark Friedman. In 2019, ENACT was awarded a multi-year grant from the Teagle Foundation’s “Education for American Civic Life” initiative.
In the spring semester of the 2009-10 academic year, Melissa
Stimell, Professor of the Practice in Legal Studies
at Brandeis University embarked on an experiment with 13 dedicated Brandeis University undergraduate
and the logistical, financial and intellectual support of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and
Public Life, and the Legal Studies Program at Brandeis University.
Together they created “Advocacy for Policy Change,” a course, that combines an investigation of the ethical dilemmas that arise in the process of lawmaking with hands-on advocacy work at the state level. Students are encouraged to think deeply about the complexities of shaping laws for constituents who hold diverse viewpoints about what is right and good for society and how best to progress through the legislative process. Students choose existing laws they feel could be credibly challenged on ethical or moral grounds, and advocate for state legislative change. The course soon developed into a wider initiative at Brandeis.
In 2015 a generous gift from International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life Board member Norbert Weissberg and his wife, former Board member Judith Schneider, enabled the national expansion of this course. This new program, ENACT: The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation, built upon the original vision for the Center, which was inspired and supported by Abraham Feinberg, the father of Judith Schneider. ENACT is non-partisan and hands-on: student teams research their chosen issues and design and implement models of legislative activity. Students choose existing laws they can challenge on policy, legal or moral grounds, or proposed laws that redress perceived wrongs. Students work with a legislative mentor and/or a member of an advocacy organization, and strive to effect social change.
Brandeis has now helped to launch programs in colleges and universities located in or near state capitals across the United States, and has built a national network of students, faculty, activists and legislators.
The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation has become a strategic and information hub – a needed resource for state-level players – that enables participants to connect with counterparts throughout the country. Many programs and networks feature advocacy efforts based on single issues, while others target federal policy. The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation is a distinctive effort to link together state-level advocacy on a national scale. It is a flagship program for stimulating young people to acquire the type of personal interaction that will inspire them to adopt University namesake Justice Brandeis’s belief that “the most important political office is that of private citizen.”