Students Aim to Increase Civic Engagement on Campus
The Harvard Kennedy School held the annual National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement conference early in February. The conference welcomed students and faculty from over 35 colleges and universities. Colleges that attended ranged from big state universities to community colleges to small private colleges, and various sizes and types in between. This year, Marist had the honor of being invited to the conference and sent undergraduate students Pam Armas ‘20, Gabrielle Salko ‘21, and Fall 2018 graduate Julia McCarthy.
The National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement focuses on voting initiatives on college campuses, thus this year’s conference reflected the success of 2018 voting and discussed ways to increase voter registration and voting leading up to the 2020 Presidential election.
As it was Marist’s first year attending, there was little to analyze regarding statistics acquired by Marist in recent years; however, Armas, Salko and McCarthy were able to evaluate other schools and their strategies to increase civic engagement on campus.
“It was cool because since we are in the beginning stages, we could see what worked and what did not work for colleges,” Armas explained. “We know what may have worked for other places may not be realistic for us. We have the opportunity to mold it to whatever we want it to be and believe will be most effective.”
The trio laid out a series of steps to achieve some short term goals.
“The first step is to increase registration at Marist... to gauge where the students are at in terms of voting. This means, for now, collecting data about students, using a campus-wide survey, asking if they are registered, if they have ever used an absentee ballot, etc.,” Salko said.
Armas explained options they had discussed in order to increase registration. One is to include a link located on MyMarist which will direct students to a website called Turbovote, where they register to vote. Another step would involve joining the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, a system they found many other colleges used at the conference, which could sum up the information of people who are registered to vote, including their gender, age, major and home state.
Salko believes the most realistic next step is to build a coalition. “It is totally possible and doable with the right people and the drive to do so.”
Armas added that coalitions can be formed with various groups on campus, and is an easy way to include as many voices as possible, and will push the importance of civic engagement.
Armas learned at the conference that by the 2020 Presidential election, current college students will make up the largest voting age group in the United States, therefore starting the conversation about civic engagement and becoming educated is an important topic to be discussing regularly.
“There is the question of how do we teach this and keep students involved and engaged in civics? How do we create the discussion?” Armas said. “College is the time where you learn to have this difficult conversation and to learn to listen to the other side.”
The statistics gathered by other colleges discovered that STEM field majors garnered the least number of student voters in previous elections.
“The issue of youth voting is beyond important. We sometimes forget our power as younger people, but we are now the largest voting block,” Salko said. “Our activism and our engagement can change everything. We need to take action to engage as many students as possible in this process on our campus.”