The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, Massachusetts, makes the history and work of the United States Senate come alive. The institute’s full-scale replica of the United States Senate Chamber and its many interactive programs and exhibits help students envision the role that they can play in America’s democratic process.
Senator Edward Kennedy’s career spanned nearly a half-century and 10 presidencies. Known as the “Lion of the Senate,” Kennedy was involved in nearly every piece of important legislation that advanced civil rights, health care, immigration and education.
The “Senate Staff Office” exhibit features the extensive work of Senator Kennedy’s staff, and the many activities involved in working in a United States Senator’s office.
“There are items students can interact with in the staff office such as phones and drawers with items to see what tasks a staffer might have to conduct on a daily basis or what their workspace might look like,” said Zubeda Khan, manager of curriculum and educator engagement. This blend of hands-on activities, video features and artifacts lets students imagine themselves in the role of those assigned to completing daily Senate office responsibilities.
The “Standing Up for Democracy” exhibit explores the importance of the right to vote.
“There’s more interactivity there including mock ballots to simulate voting, a gerrymandering activity, voting tubes, and even voter registration forms for older visitors in case they are not yet registered to vote,” Khan said.
In realizing Senator Kennedy’s vision for a dynamic hub for civic engagement, the institute offers interactive programs for groups that allow students to simulate the work that happens on the Senate floor.
One such program is Pathways to Environmental Justice. Students learn about the challenges posed by climate change. They work together as Senators to build a bill that also takes the needs of vulnerable communities, fossil fuel workers and young people into account. Through the experience, students come to appreciate the complexity of politics and the importance of collaboration and consensus.
The Today’s Vote program offers the chance to explore one of three current policy changes facing the United States Senate today: Voting Rights, the Electoral College, and Climate Justice. These two-hour guided simulations provide opportunities for a live floor debate and breakout sessions. At the end of the process, students deliberate and cast their votes. The institute offers a number of resources to prepare students for a robust experience and to reflect on the simulation when students are back in the classroom.
“The programs are facilitated by a small team from our staff,” Khan said. “There is typically someone playing the Vice President presiding over the Senate who facilitates the bulk of the program as well as additional staff to facilitate different elements of the program.” Students practice their public speaking skills by delivering speeches or participating in debates. Students are challenged to consider multiple perspectives and walk away from the experience with a deeper understanding of how a piece of legislation is crafted.
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute is located in Boston’s Columbia Point neighborhood on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston and is adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
For more information, visit emkinstitute.org/plan-your-visit.
Article by Michael McLaughlin
Main image: Students debate issues, Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, Boston, Mass.; Credit: Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate