By Joe Arruda
In this climate, engaging in politics is unavoidable. The voter turnout for college-aged students has been particularly low in elections past, but if Springfield College is a reflection of campuses across the country, that could change this year.
From in person and virtual voter registration and information booths, to educational events and hashtags on social media, voting initiatives on the Springfield College campus are increasing awareness and teaching young people how to register and cast their ballot.
In September, the Men of Excellence club and the Graduate Student Organization teamed up to encourage individuals passing by Campus Union to make a plan to vote. They set up a table with information on important dates, instructions on how to register and how to actually cast your ballot.
“I’ve interviewed some students who led students through the process that this is their first time voting because they’re finally of age to vote, and it’s students to students saying, ‘Here, I’ll lead you – I’ll show you the link, I’ll walk you through the link,’” Springfield College Associate Director for Media Relations, Damon Markiewicz, said.
“There has been such a good awareness on our campus (…) Students have done a great job of telling each other and they’ve held each other accountable to get a plan early.”
Having a plan is especially important through the turbulence of the ongoing concern over the Coronavirus and controversy surrounding the legitimacy of mail-in ballots.
Through Springfield College-run social media accounts, the voices of student leaders have been amplified. The school has interviewed several students about the importance of voting and encouraging others to vote, and posted those videos on their YouTube page and the website.
Before Men of Excellence and the Graduate Student Organization set up their table in front of the beloved James Naismith statue, the Office of Multicultural Affairs was already hard at work with the same mission.
Charisse DelVecchio, a Graduate Assistant in the office, made it her goal to increase awareness on the Springfield campus, so she created the 20/20 Vision campaign.
“20/20 Vision is over a year old now, I started planning the program in the summer of 2019 and all of last year, it happened every other week,” she said. “The purpose was to highlight all of the candidates and their voting records, their policy ideas, their personal opinions on various issues related to voter interest. Every meeting would be a different topic. There was a racism and reparations topic, an economy and taxes topic, there was an education and higher ed. topic, LGBTQA and women’s rights topic.”
Through her informative workshops, she was able to help students through understanding what each candidate stood for, but her work didn’t stop there.
The 20/20 Vision campaign had its own voter registration booths last semester, and because of the pandemic, they moved virtual as well. When they were able to keep track with everything on paper, the campaign had registered at least 100 people to vote, and likely more.
“Now that we’re so close to the election, the work is very one-on-one, it’s very individualized. We’re getting some steady drop in during our virtual booths, but also a lot of people have just kind of been reaching out to me and saying like, ‘Is it too late?’ ‘What can I do? How can I get this done?’ And I’m really happy to help that way, because sometimes that’s just a little bit easier when you’re working on a college campus where people are coming from multiple different states and every single state has different rules,” DelVecchio said.
The importance of voting, particularly in this election, has been significantly stressed.
“You have this option,” Markiewicz said. “You live in a democracy where you have the option to have a say and to have a vote and it’s tied into our constitution. I think any educational institution has the obligation to say it’s your right, you live in a democracy, you have a constitution that allows you to do this.”
Jim Kaishian, President of the Graduate Student Organization, added, “I think it’s our responsibility as young adults to (go vote). People like Representative John Lewis really put their life on the line just for that chance. If you want to shift the demographics on what our politicians believe matters, vote. If you want to make the world a better place, vote. If you want your voice accounted for, vote. It’s the most patriotic thing you could do.”
Other leaders have expressed that the importance of voting does not just apply to the presidential election. Though it is the one that gets the most coverage and writes the history books, there are others that may lead to actual change in the near future.
“This is the presidential election, but there are other elections – midterm elections and local elections – and some argue that those are even more important because they directly affect you in your everyday life,” said Kris Rhim, student trustee and president of the Men of Excellence club. “Any way we can, we just want to make sure people have their voice heard and know the importance of voting even during a pandemic.”
These groups understand that college students may need a little extra push. Many students feel that their voice doesn’t matter, especially with most students at Springfield coming from states in the Northeast that historically vote one way in the electoral college.
“I think that your generation, this block of people, who for the first time this year are going to be eligible to vote and are going to do it, I think that you’re going to decide this election, and that’s huge (…) This is a movement and there is something kind of bigger that’s inspiring the energy and enthusiasm around getting involved today. There are a lot of events that have been building up to this,” DelVecchio said.
“Politicians see that. You’re kind of creating a visibility for younger generations that has never happened before. Politicians don’t look to us because they don’t take us seriously because we don’t vote. This movement, this new energy, is going to change the way I hope candidates engage with young people in the future as well.”
The main goal of initiatives like 20/20 Vision and #SCVotes has been to push students to educate themselves and to fulfill their civic duty in being an active member of society.
Markiewicz, who has been working at Springfield since 2012, has recognized the effects of voting initiatives this year.
“There is definitely much more of an awareness by students to vote this time. I think maybe the couple of weeks going into the election in 2016 it kind of ramped up, but nothing even close to this much awareness,” he said. “The overall goal of everything we’ve been doing is having a unified campus. No one really cares who you vote for – although, quietly, people may – but it’s been more just getting out there and doing it. Being unified to do it.”
All photos courtesy of Springfield College Marketing & Communications