St. John’s Hosts High School Democracy Roundtable

CCPS community members and high school students who participated in the Democracy Roundtable: A New Forum for Youth Engagement event
May 30, 2024

Eager to engage the next generation of voters in the democratic process, St. John’s University hosted a forum for area high school students on May 4 in St. Augustine Hall, home of The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies.

The gathering, “Democracy Roundtable: A New Forum for Youth Engagement,” brought nearly 30 students from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, NY, and William H. Maxwell High School in Brooklyn, NY, to the University’s Queens, NY, campus. The four-hour event featured discussions, policy debates, and competing small-group presentations on the topic, “Local Government Approval of Age Verification for Social Media Use.” The topic explored age-restriction strategies governments might employ if shown that social media use before a certain age impacts students’ mental health.

The forum was the first in a series of democracy roundtables planned by the Collins College of Professional Studies before November’s presidential election. They are meant to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the workings of American democracy, while offering a secure and nonpartisan environment in which to express opinions.

The roundtables are part of St. John’s commitment to the America The Possible project, which is dedicated to revitalizing young people’s engagement with democracy.

“Many indicators show that trust and confidence in democracy have been eroded in the United States and other liberal democracies, especially among the youngest generations,” said Luca Iandoli, Ph.D., Dean, Collins College of Professional Studies and Professor, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science. “While many factors contribute to such a decline, one is a reduction in the level of participation in the democratic process. America The Possible wants to address this problem.”

According to a 2023 The Economist/YouGov poll, barely half of Americans ages 18-29 believe democracy is the best form of government. The high school sophomores and juniors who visited St. John’s are not likely to vote in November, but should be eligible to vote shortly after that, including for president in 2028.

Students in the small-group competition evaluated the requirements, rationale, and enforcement strategies of age-related social media restrictions. The students selected the topic as an example of a policy debate that impacts the lives of young Americans.    

Dean Iandoli, alumnus Steve Farella ’77SVC, and friend of the University, Martin Puris, served as judges. A team of five students from Maxwell High School won, recommending after debate that children younger than eight should not have social media access without parental permission and that all youth accounts should have a mandatory parental registration page.      

“Events like this are the essence of the American idea of debate,” said Mr. Puris, an advertising industry icon who recently donated his professional catalogue to St. John’s. “To understand what the Constitution says and why it says it, you need to know that it was written by people––mostly teenagers and 20-somethings––who did not particularly trust or like each other. The one thing they had in common was an almost religious belief in the idea of America.”