Jonathan Laurence, director of Boston College’s Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy, said that constitutional democracies are necessary in the 21st century to address growing racial inequality and widening social divisions.
“A poll last month revealed that the greatest single concern on American voters’ minds is threats to our democracy—more so than inflation, the economy, or immigration,” said Laurence, who is a professor in the political science department. “It’s thus an opportune moment to reflect on what the constitution means to us.”
The Clough Center hosted its first annual “What the Constitution Means to Us” event on Sept. 12 in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, national holidays that encourage Americans to “reflect on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what it means to be a U.S. citizen,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Angela Ards said when she was a child, the constitution represented being an American citizen. Growing into adulthood, Ards, now an associate professor in the English department, began to recognize the hypocrisy of the document.
“[The Constitution] has been interpreted … to keep those historically in power, empowered, and those historically disenfranchised as perpetual second-class citizens,” Ards said.
Laura Steinberg, director of the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, said growing up in the midst of the urban race riots in the late 1960s motivated her to interrogate the role of government in society.
“I started to question whether there was any way that we can construct a government that serves all people fairly, with compassion … and also for the common good,” Steinberg said.
According to Matthew Malec, MCAS ’23, the constitution is the bedrock of the nation and the greatest secular document ever written.
“[The constitution’s] overall message is that government comes from the consent of the people and that there are certain inalienable rights that, possessed by all, are the key components to establishing a liberal democracy,” Malec said. “[It is] the form of government which has created the most economic prosperity and the greatest expansion of human rights by a wide margin.”
Peter Krause, an associate professor of political science, identifies as a proud but concerned American. According to Krause, while the constitution is the reason for the nation’s relatively stable democracy, it is inadequate.
“I realize now that the constitution is just a foundation, and that every generation has to work tirelessly to fill the gaps to protect the constitution and ensure that its application reflects our true values,” Krause said.
Similarly, Brendan Mahoney, MCAS ’25, said the constitution must evolve in order to reflect the values of contemporary society.
“It’s true that the constitution needs to be the backbone of the law in the United States, nobody’s denying it, but in order for a backbone to exist, it must be strong,” Mahoney said.
As a Colombian immigrant in the United States, associate professor of Hispanic Ministry Hosffmann Ospino said he is mindful of the nation’s values, commitments, and limitations.
“I chose to be an immigrant, to be part of the way of being human that appears in this particular document,” Ospino said. “I choose to be part of the community that this document has brought together, and I choose the particular way of being a nation that the Constitution continues to inspire.”
Theology professor Cathleen Kaveny characterized the constitution as a form of religious scripture. While the scripture constitutes the people and the people give life to the scripture, there have been failures, according to Kaveny.
“Honoring the constitution means recognizing the ways in which we have failed it, and it has failed us,” she said.